Imagine if I could give you a magic pill that had the ability to make you happier, healthier, foster stronger relationships, enhance your career, deal with stress and conflict and even help you live longer – would you take it? Of course, right? What if I told you, you could have access to all these things without a pill?
It is all about strengthening your willpower.
What is willpower?
Simply, it is the ability to decide and initiate action. It’s about being able to control your impulses and decide on the most empowered action you can take. How good are you at controlling your attention, emotions and actions?
Ok, I agree it’s not easy in the world we live in. The reality is that we live in a noisy, distracted, emotionally charged world, that drives terrible behaviours where:
- multitasking is the norm
- we are addicted to our phones and to social media
- There are constantly multiple tabs open on our computer screens.
- we can’t sit, be still, clear our minds or be without our phones without making people anxious!
The bad news is this noise weakens our willpower. It’s our kryptonite. Not good for us.
The good news is that scientists have found that willpower is like a muscle, you can strengthen it with practice. You can start with really small ways to build your willpower. Even the smallest practices of self discipline start to build our willpower muscle.
It’s the habit of noticing what you are about to do and choosing to do the more difficult thing instead of the easiest. It’s about slowing down and asking yourself “What would my most empowered self choose to do here?”.
I’m talking about the most simplest of things to begin with. For example, putting your clothes and shoes away at night, making the bed in the morning, going for a run or eating the healthier option at the cafe. Every time you do this, you are strengthening your willpower muscle, just like working out at the gym.
Think of it as having two different people in your head:
1. Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – who lives for the moment, wants instant gratification and has no self control.
2. Hermione Granger from Harry Potter – who is a level headed person, who can delay gratification to achieve bigger goals and stay calm in chaos.
Each day, these two voices in your head debate the smallest to the largest willpower challenges you are faced with. Can you resist instant gratification for longer term rewards?
3 Strategies to Develop your Willpower
1. Pause and Plan
When you’re faced with a choice, rather than racing into action, consider the options carefully. Think about it for a moment. Take three deep breaths and think about the long term gain of taking the harder option. Listen to Aretha Franklin’s classic song, Think:
You better think (think)
Think about what you’re trying to do to me
Think (think, think)
Let your mind go, let yourself be free
What’s truly the best decision to be made? What would your best self do?
2. Make it easy to do the right thing and hard to do the wrong thing
If you want to go exercise in the morning, what can do do to set yourself up for success? You can set your alarm, you can get your clothes and shoes ready and put them next to your bed, you can arrange to go with a friend so it makes it hard for you to back out. Set yourself up for success.
Consider other good habits that you want to set up in your life – eating healthily at work, banishing time spent on social media. How can you pre-commit to making the right decision and give yourself no other option than to succeed?!
3. Track your progress, make it visual and fun
Get focused on the habits needed for you to achieve your goals. Think about one habit you can do for the next 30 days. Chart your progress or get a friend to help. And hey, even if you miss a day, get back on the horse straight away (recommitting is as important as starting) and make sure you complete your habit the very next day. Monitoring your progress improves your willpower and is also motivating.
It can make an incredible difference in your life
As Kelly McGonigal, author of The Willpower Instinct says “Self-control is a better predictor of academic success than intelligence (take that, SATs), a stronger determinant of effective leadership than charisma (sorry, Tony Robbins), and more important for marital bliss than empathy (yes, the secret to lasting marriage may be learning how to keep your mouth shut). If we want to improve our lives, willpower is not a bad place to start.”
My advice – start with the smallest thing you can do to improve your willpower and work up from there.