Our willpower affects our everyday lives in many ways – especially when it comes to our health choices. The topic of willpower recently came up in a workshop I was attending, and seemed like an especially timely topic given the New Year and the plethora of people testing their willpower with resolutions. Truth is most people already know what they need to do in order to live a healthy lifestyle. Knowledge that we should eat less sugar, eat more wholefoods, exercise often and have ways to relieve stress isn’t new. Most of us also have the desire and intention to do these things. So the only missing link is actually being able to put knowledge into practice, and that all comes down to will power.
Here’s the thing I want you all to know; you can increase your willpower with some exercises and a little better understanding of how it works. Research shows that willpower, or the ability to control yourself actually works a lot like a muscle. In other words, you can work to strengthen it!
Use Your Supply of Willpower Wisely
Will power is, unfortunately, not an unlimited resource. It can get drained as the day goes on. So first of all, do your hardest things you want to accomplish at the beginning of the day, when your store of willpower is at its peak.
As we all know from experience, willpower is a great mental feat. This is because it involves so many areas of the brain and requires huge amounts of fuel. Using willpower fatigues us both emotionally and physically; it depletes your body’s blood glucose levels. To manage this in order to exert your willpower, keep a steady blood sugar. You can do this by eating regularly throughout the day and eating enough protein, complex carbohydrates and veggies (the foods that spike and crash your blood sugar are bad options). As another trick, if you feel your willpower slipping and you need a bit more to accomplish one more task, literally add a (healthy) source of glucose, like a piece of fruit – that will give you a little boost.
Being aware and mindful of how your glucose levels play into your willpower is a great way to manage it wisely.
Exercise Your Willpower
Just like a muscle, you can strengthen your willpower. Exercising your willpower in any area of your life can increase your overall willpower. By changing some easier things in your life. Research demonstrates that committing to small, consistent acts of willpower in any area of life can increase your overall willpower. Knowing this, you could start off strengthening your willpower with little tasks that are irrelevant to your actual goals, but still take willpower. For example; try to eat breakfast with your left hand everyday for a week or take a different route home from work for 10 days. Additionally, don’t forget to hit the gym regularly. Working out your physical body is also an act of willpower, which at first can deplete your willpower, but the more you do it you are exercising your willpower and therefore strengthening it (plus exercising helps stabilize blood glucose).
Meditate and Get Enough Sleep
In case you needed one more reason you should meditate – it strengthens the same mental mechanisms used for willpower. As Deborah Kot’s article from U.S. News and World Report states “Practising mindfulness meditation for a few minutes each day can actually boost willpower by building up gray matter in areas of the brain that regulate emotions and govern decision making.”
Research also shows that sleep can restore depleted willpower. If you’re going on a few hours of sleep, it’s much harder to exert willpower because your levels might not be where they should be.
We default back to unhealthy habits when we are tired. Do your best to work around this by getting adequate sleep and on days when you know you will be tired try to make things as easy for yourself as possible; have your gym bag packed and ready to go, have a healthy meal pre-made for when you get home from a long day etcetera.
Don’t Give in to Guilt
In Kelly McGonigal’s book, The Willpower Instinct, she advises to not let guilt get the best of you. It’s been shown that shame and guilt make you more likely to give in. So if you slip up a bit on that new goal, don’t be too hard on yourself, which could lead to the mentality of letting it all go to hell. Forgive yourself and move forward.
Life is always a practice in motion and so is your willpower!
Set an Intention
This is a little personal tip that I like to use. Set an intention for whatever you are trying to accomplish with your willpower. Set your intention at the beginning of each day or activity and then check in with that intention throughout your day. For example, as I am trying to eat less processed sugar myself I can think of a lot of benefits that this can bring, but my most important and personal one is wanting to increase my physical and mental energy. So I do my best throughout the day when my willpower is being tested by that piece of candy or office cake and the sugar monster inside me is calling out for it, to reconnect to my intention about wanting that increased energy level and sometimes that is enough to give my willpower just enough oomph to say no.
There you have it. Increase your will power with these simple tips and your healthy lifestyle will be more in reach than ever. Stretch and strengthen your willpower and your own limits and you might just end up in a better place.