The Scientific Methods for Boosting Your Willpower
Willpower is a pretty significant word. It's the difference between sticking with a clean eating diet and diving face-first into a plate of brownies. It's what drags you out of bed on Monday mornings and into work rather than letting you stay snuggled under the covers asleep. And, most importantly, it's the kick in the butt we all require to both accomplish goals and make changes.
Sometimes, obtaining the willpower to power through challenges and goals only requires the mental capacity to do so. And according to Psychology Today, all our brains need to do is imagine their great potential.
As Dr. Denise Cummins writes for the website, increasing willpower is as easy as imagining situations you might encounter. Because imagination is powerful—yes, just as SpongeBob mentioned years ago—we condition our bodies to react to what we see in our mind just as they would in reality.
Cummins says, "If you imagine lying on a peaceful beach, listening to the waves gently lapping the shore and tasting the salty sea air, your body will respond by relaxing. If instead you imagine being late for an important meeting, your body will tense in response."
As a result, your brain controls how your body shapes its responses to difficulties, changes, and goals. If you envision yourself commandeering a meeting in the office, you will, in turn, be better mentally prepared to actually do so. If you imagine yourself avoiding fatty dessert foods, you are better prepared to put off those same foods.
Of course, mental strength isn't the only brain-based method of enhancing willpower. When willpower becomes more than something to draw strength from, it can offer the boost needed to sustain your goals.
As Cummins writes, psychologist Art Markman argues that willpower is a habit. The less we exercise the ability of willpower, the weaker it becomes. And, when willpower is weak, we tend to rely on our old habits to get through difficulties. Yet rather than depending on habits like poor diet and laziness, we should turn to less familiar methods.
Though it's comfortable to turn to the source of our weakened willpower when worried, discouraged, or stressed—like fast food, alcohol, smoking, or sitting in front of the TV—we need to make a new habit out of willpower. Swap the harmful or unhappy response with a calming one, like music or exercise. The more motivational choices you make, the more ingrained in your mind and body those activities will become.
In his book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, psychologist Roy Baumeister discusses how our willpower isn't something that we can turn on and off. Instead, it requires a workout—a muscle just like the rest of our body.
While studying employees in Germany, Baumeister discovered that individuals who had the greatest amount of self-control were also the strongest at resisting harmful impulses. He found that those who proactively controlled their urges of laziness and bad habits were better at accomplishing goals.
Need to get an oil change in your car, but can't find the time to get there? Those who did take their cars to the shop were overall better at preventative maintenance, in all aspects of their lives.
We all want to avoid all that's required of us in the future, whether it's as simple as heading to work or tackling a project. And, of course, procrastination is a fantastic way to avoid the inevitable for a bit longer.
Yet procrastinating can make us perfectionists, as Baumeister discovered. According to his study, our urge to procrastinate actually makes us more likely to give into our urges. When we are trying to avoid other projects or actions, we gravitate towards activities that suck all of our willpower—and we become increasingly stressed out, which also zaps our will.
So ultimately, the less we avoid the inevitable, the stronger our will. As much as holding off on that big project might seem, it's causing you to give in to your weaknesses.
Incentives can work wonders. Journalist Esther Dyson—a disciplined daily swimmer—likes to tell how after years of failing to floss regularly, she was finally struck by the right incentive: If she flossed her teeth, she would permit herself to swim 5 fewer minutes the following day. That was 4 years ago, and she has flossed every night since. "Everybody needs to find their own little thing," she says. What's yours?
Your willpower isn't a factor of the environment around you—instead, it's a factor of you yourself. Use these pieces of advice to enhance your inner strength and will to achieve all it is you're aiming for, and don't let weakness get in the way.