Willpower is a mental muscle that you can train just like any other
Passing up those plump, salt-and-vinegary slap chips. Staying on the treadmill for the goal time you set, even when your legs feel like jelly. Saying no to that third glass of wine. It all comes down to willpower – being able to choose what you ought to do over what you want to do.
“Willpower is the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals. It involves self-discipline, impulse control and the ability to carry out one’s decisions, wishes and plans,” explains Durban-based psychologist Dr Akashni Maharaj. “It can be weakened or strengthened. Studies indicate that willpower is like a metaphorical muscle – it is possible to train it.”
What’s more, Dr Roy Baumeister, psychologist and co-author of Willpower: Rediscovering The Greatest Human Strength, believes strengthening your willpower can make you more productive, less stressed and generally happier.
Use these simple strategies to boost yours…
1/Feed Your Power
The more you munch on good-for-you food, the more self-control you’ll have. Why? Your brain needs glucose to function at an optimal level, so when your blood sugar (glucose) is at a healthy level – as it is after regular meals – you’re better able to resist the junk. “Ensure you never become famished by keeping healthy snacks nearby,” says Karen Protheroe, dietician and author of The Lean Aubergine.
2/Rise For Success
You’re more likely to give in to temptation as the day wears on because using willpower depletes your supply, so schedule workouts for the early morning when it’s strongest. “Besides being less likely to give in to cravings, exercising in the am also ensures you’re energised for the rest of the day,” explains WH fitness expert Dr Kim Nolte.
8am: “Sorry, can’t make it; I’m off to yoga.”
11am: “No cake for me, thanks. I’m training later.”
1pm: “I’m really not up for an hour-long spinning class, but I’ll do 30 minutes on the treadmill.”
3pm: “Mmmm, those cupcakes do look delicious. Okay, maybe just a small one. I’ll work it off later.”
5pm: “A quick drink? I guess I can save my jog for tomorrow morning.”
A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that those with the greatest self-control were the ones who used it less often. Cut down on the number of decisions you have to make every day. “When your mind is confronted with too many decisions, you tend to succumb to what’s easy and acceptable. Therefore, the fewer things you have to concentrate on, the easier it is to strengthen your willpower muscle,” explains Maharaj. Reduce the number of choices you have to make in any 24-hour period. “Weigh up your goals, pinpoint your priorities and tackle them one at a time. Mastery of one thing can lead to long-term results, rather than an attempt at many and failure in all,” advises Maharaj.
Whether it’s about excelling at work or getting fit, hanging out with driven, goal-orientated people increases the chances that their willpower will rub off on you. “But willpower comes from within,” warns Maharaj. “Once you’ve decided on your aim, find like-minded people who are doing similar things for themselves so you can develop a ‘buddy system’ and motivate one another to keep individual goals alive and in focus.”
Willpower takes mental energy. According to research published in the Journal of Obesity, the average night owl consumes 1000kJ more than someone who goes to bed earlier – and most of those extra kilojoules tend to be racked up after 8pm.
6/Adjust Your Attitude
Working out to lose weight? Reconsider your motivation. Research found that those who sweat for the sole purpose of shedding weight attended the most exercise classes. No surprise. But they actually spent 40 percent less time exercising overall than women who were active because it made them feel good, according to a study in the journal Sex Roles. Your discipline might waver if you’re driven by unrealistic expectations and you associate exercise with hatred of your body, says researcher Michelle Segar. Try combining fitness and pleasure: join a soccer league with a friend.
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