When changing a habit or trying a new routine, many people claim willpower as the biggest obstacle to achieving their goal. Willpower is seen as a strength. It is how people exercise control over temptation and exercise persistence to learn new things. It is the conqueror of procrastination and a cherished ally when it is available.
And that is where many people find a problem. Willpower is not always available. Much like attention or physical energy, willpower is finite. It can become fatigued if overworked and take time to replenish. It can be aided and enhanced like exercising a muscle, but it can never be infinite.
Given these features of willpower and its importance to achieving personal goals and satisfaction, here are some healthy guidelines on how to exercise and grow your willpower capacity.
- Build in time to take a break. When starting a new workout routine, you are encouraged to plan for a day or two of rest in between workouts to give your body time to adjust. Without this precaution, you risk injury and exhaustion. The same goes for willpower. Make sure to prioritize time for your mind to relax and regenerate your ability to focus and exercise self-control.
This can be especially difficult when approaching a deadline, so it can be helpful to plan this time out well in advance. If you find yourself unable to keep a healthy routine that incorporates breaks, give yourself a longer recovery time before taking on the next project. Keeping yourself too depleted will decrease personal satisfaction and leave your willpower weakened.
- Identify and withdraw your temptations.Whether it is a candy bar, getting lost in Facebook, or being sucked into the next must-watch Netflix binge, we all have our temptations. Start by identifying those that are most powerful against your willpower, and then find ways to lessen their strength of distraction.
For example, if trying to stay on a diet, keep the unhealthy foods out of reach and the healthier food in sight and readily available. If trying to finish an important paper, disconnect from the Internet or log out of every social media site. You may not be able to control the existence of your temptations, but you can influence how easily they might distract you in a moment when your willpower is not at full strength.
- Keep a simplistic perspective. A common drain on willpower is ruminating on how much you still have to do and how far away your end goal feels. While understandable, this overwhelming perspective can make even the smallest progress seem futile or worthless, and that constrains your motivation and willpower.
When you notice yourself losing focus on the task at hand, bring yourself back to today and write down what you need to accomplish. Take pride in your ability to outline your plan to reach your goal and in your willingness to take it one step at a time.
A simple shift in perspective can do wonders for the perceived strength of your willpower, and this is something you can do anywhere. Much like scheduling time to ensure you give yourself a break, it is also beneficial to schedule a check-in that triggers you to take a step back and examine the bigger picture.
By following these steps, you can turn your willpower into a strength you can rely on. Start small and begin making real progress towards your goals.