Willpower is a response that comes from both the brain and the body, it gives you the energy and endurance to deal with challenges, the ability to persevere in the face of setbacks, and the strength to tolerate conflict or stress that might otherwise make us run away from goals or projects we care about. Willpower is like a muscle in more ways than one. It needs to be trained, developed and maintained. So how can you improve your willpower? Use it or lose it, but don’t overdo it.
Good habits. Research confirms that good habits strengthen our willpower. Even if we start with something simple like making our beds, this can have a powerful positive effect on our willpower. This occurs because these small habits build self-discipline and self-control, and that spreads to other areas of our life.
Routine. Every time we modify our routines, we are exercising self-control. The more that we can exercise self-control, the stronger our willpower will become. When we succeed in making small changes, we develop the ability to take on much larger ones. It may feel very strange at first, but it actually goes a long way towards increasing our willpower.
Imagination. Imagination is another powerful technique for improving willpower. The body often responds to imagined situations in the same way it responds to experienced ones. You can use this to your advantage in building willpower. You can even use your imagination to keep unwanted thoughts at bay. Train yourself to think about something else. Every time that unwanted thought threatens to intrude on your consciousness, imagine something pleasant instead.
Meditation. Meditation has also been linked to increasing the reserve of willpower we have available, as well as improving attention, focus, stress management and self-awareness. Meditating trains the brain to focus and resist the urge to wander. Research shows that after a few days of practicing meditation, your brain will be able to focus better, you will have more energy, and you will be less stressed. The simple act of building self-awareness through mediation also helps the impulse tendency. When we become “mindful,” we are also engaging the part of our brain that we need for willpower, rather than just letting our impulses take over.
The most ignored route to higher willpower is exercise and nutrition. Not only do they improve willpower, but they can also make you feel better as well.
Don’t skip meals. Our brain is our decision-making muscle and its ability to provide us with the necessary willpower to make correct decisions is influenced by whether it is sufficiently fed.
Exercise. Another great way to train the brain that is often undervalued, yet can make you a lot more resilient to stress and thus boost willpower, is regular physical exercise. Both relaxing, mindful exercise like yoga and intense physical training can provide these benefits.
Sleep. Getting enough sleep improves self-control and provides an optimal environment for the brain to function. Rest reduces the body’s need for glucose, and it allows the body to make better use of what it has. Self-control requires brainpower, and when we are tired, our bodies generally lack enough glucose to fuel our brains properly.
Stress can strongly deplete willpower. Being under high levels of stress means that our body’s energy is used up in acting instinctively and making decisions based on short-term outcomes. When people are stressed, they tend to fall back on ingrained habits, whether those are helpful or harmful. The more you strengthen your ability to deal with stress in a healthy manner, the more likely you will turn to those habits to rescue you when stress comes along.
If your willpower feels drained, think of the task at hand as a necessary stepping stone to help you achieve your goals. Oftentimes, people give up, not because they lack willpower, but because they feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the goal they must accomplish. A good way to deal with this feeling of overwhelm is to break the goal down into manageable pieces and line them up in a sequence that guarantees success.
Like all muscles in the body, willpower can be strengthened with practice. And while willpower can be increased, it is a slow and gradual process.