How to Increase Your Willpower.
Willpower is our capacity to actively choose to give up a short term gain (another cookie) in favor of our long term goal (health and fitness).
Research indicates people with higher levels of willpower are more likely to be happier, healthier, and overall better off than those with low levels of willpower. Yet, many of us find it difficult to maintain our willpower on a daily basis; eating healthy, exercising, practicing empathy, saving for the future, or even working on personal projects.
This is because willpower is typically considered a finite resource.
So when you exercise restraint in one area of your life, say dealing with a frustrating coworker or implementing a hard-core diet, it can be harder to find the energy to go to the gym, be patient in traffic, or simply answer the question, “What’s for dinner?” at the end of the day.
Studies suggest that you can strengthen your willpower overtime. However,
the most effective method to increase your willpower is to often to reduce the number of times you need to draw on it.
When you reduce the number of times your impulsive brain (your limbic brain) has to be overridden by your rational brain (our pre-frontal cortex), you’ll keep your willpower reserve high. You’ll find you not only have more mental stamina, but you’ll be much more likely to make decisions in the short-term that benefit your long-term health and happiness.
Here are the top 2 ways to increase your willpower.
1. REDUCE DECISIONS.
Tip: Create perimeters around daily activities to reduce choice, and therefore the number of times you need to draw on your willpower.
CREATE A DAILY ROUTINE
Daily decisions of what to wear, eat, or do may seem inconsequential, but they add up.
If you’ve ever felt exhausted after shopping for groceries, it’s because you had to make lots of little decisions throughout the entire process. You had to decide which jam your partner will like best out of the 47 different options available, which avocados are actually ripe, which ones you think will be ripe by Tuesday, or if buying the pre-cut fruit is worth the extra time this week.
Meanwhile, you’re also exercising willpower when you choose not to lash out at the over-tired-and-hungry toddler in the aisle over, load your cart with ice cream, or buy a coke as a treat for yourself after standing in the checkout line for 20 minutes.
Drawing on our willpower reserves for small decisions, typically means the mental energy we have for other areas of our life is depleted - such as addressing a complex issue at work, being present for a friend during a difficult time, or just being patient with the neighbor’s kids.
Try to create a set morning ritual, hairstyle, makeup routine. You might even experiment with a capsule wardrobe or a personal uniform. When you reduce the number of decisions you need to make in the morning, so you’ll have more willpower reserves to call on later in the day.
PRACTICE MEAL PLANNING
Implementing a meal planning routine - for breakfast, lunch and dinner - is another great way to reduce the number of decisions you have to make. Skipping meals is not— especially, breakfast. Starting the day with little or no food leads to low glucose levels, which means you’re more likely to be irritable, and less likely to exercise willpower.
In the morning, eliminate sugary breakfast cereals as they cause blood sugar levels to spike and then drop. Instead, try to rotate through three or four healthy breakfast options; avocado on toast, almond-butter and banana toast, oatmeal with blueberries, or roasted sweet potatoes.
You might try a dinner meal rotation where you align a certain category of food to certain nights of the week. Monday = pasta, Tuesday = salads, Wednesdays = soups, Thursdays = burritos, Fridays = rice bowls, Saturdays = leftovers, and Sundays = roasts.
To keep your willpower reserve high, create parameters about your morning routine and daily eating habits. This helps to reduce the number of decision you need to make and will help to increase your willpower capacity.
2. BECOME A CHOICE ARCHITECT.
Tip: Setup your home and office in a way that removes the need to make a decision or nudges you to make the decision you want for the long-term.
Another way to reduce the number of decisions you make is to become your own choice architect. The general concept here is to organize your home (or office) in a way that makes it easier to make decisions that are aligned to your personal values or long-term goals instead of choosing short-term gains.
For instance, if you want to stop eating junk food, it’s much easier if your remove the temptation (by getting it out of your house) and choosing to replace it with something that’s actually good for you (cut carrots).
If you want to go to the gym every morning, pack your bag, layout your clothes, and make sure the car is filled with gas the night before. By creating a path of least resistance, you’re much more likely to hop in the car and go, then decide to sleep-in another hour, instead.
Create an environment where it’s easy to make the choices you want for the long-term and you’ll increase your willpower reserves for something else.
Our environment has a profound effect on our mood, energy levels and ability to make good decisions. When your physical space is cluttered, your brain’s capacity to focus is reduced. It take active willpower to constantly refocus your attention - especially if it’s something you don’t want to do. So, even though you can write your next presentation in a messy living room, you’re much more likely to get the work done faster if you go to a quiet coffee shop instead.
Neuroscience studies looking at task performance of people in disorganized verses organized environments show that,
“physical clutter in your surroundings competes for your attention, resulting in decreased performance and increased stress.’
Think of all those little piles of stuff in your home as to-do’s apps running in the background on your phone. They don’t seem like they take up much energy, but half-way through the day most of your battery power has been zapped. Talk anyone who has taken the time to declutter their homes, or simply downsize their wardrobe, and you’re likely to get enthusiastic responses of how much better they feel and how much more energy they have simplified their space.
Messy spaces stress us out. A recent study at the University of Southern California, (UCLA) looked at the stress hormone, diurnal cortisol, as women walked around their homes. They found that as the women talked about all the stuff they owned it increased their stress levels. This may be because it was associated with unfinished tasks, and the sheer amount of physical cutter overload their senses.
Clutter attracts more clutter. It makes us more likely to procrastinate and drains our mental energy because we’re constantly having to shift our focus. By clearing unnecessary items from our home (and organizing our space) we reduce the number of times we have to draw on our willpower in order to stay on task. If you can keep your non-essential decision making to a minimum, you'll be better prepared to respond to more complicated and complex decisions with ease.
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