When it comes to creating personal change, improving lifestyle or reaching goals, I often hear people say things like “I have no willpower” or “I need more willpower”. Sometimes people make observations about my life and say “you have so much willpower!”.
Willpower is defined as “the ability to control your thoughts and actions in order to achieve what you want.” Willpower is an important element of change and success. Its essentially about delaying short term gratification in order to achieve your bigger goals. However, willpower is far less important than what most people think it is!
I don’t have that much more willpower than the average person and people who believe they lack willpower don’t really need as much willpower as they think. What they need instead is to create a lifestyle in which they are far less reliant on willpower to start with.
I’m just a human being with human needs, thoughts and desires. Sometimes when I wake up in the morning I want to stay home instead of going to the gym or work. When I see cake I want to eat it. When I walk past my favourite clothing shops I want to buy things. When I smell wine I want to drink it. When a work task becomes too hard or tedious I want to quit and start browsing social media. But most of the time I don’t do these things…
Why is this?
- Firstly, I’ve created (and am constantly recreating) good habits and routines that support my goals. Our habits are essentially the small decisions, actions, practices and routines we do everyday. Often we’re not even conscious or aware of what those are – they’ve become things we just do automatically and therefore require minimal willpower.
- Secondly, I aim to be in supportive environments that don’t constantly challenge and fatigue my willpower. My home environment is set up to support my values and goals (i.e. I don’t surround myself with endless temptations) and I also aim to spend as much time as possible in similar environments.
Despite this, I still find myself needing to exercise willpower on a daily basis as will most people (unless you live in some kind of goal-aligned sanctuary!). Recently, iv’e been spending more time in new environments that have required more willpower than usual! Additionally, many of my clients have been talking to me about choices and needing more willpower. These two situations have reminded me that despite my bias towards good habits at the end of the day our ability to exercise willpower and say no is still important.
So here are some of the things I do to increase my willpower when I need it the most. These tips may not work for everyone but they’ve definitely helped me out in various scenarios.
Believe that you DO have willpower
It’s very easy for the belief “I don’t have any willpower” to turn into “I don’t have any willpower and therefore I am going to stay up till 1.00am eating chips and watching netflix”…It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy! A good starting point is to know and believe that you DO have willpower (we all do!) and to talk about yourself in a way that affirms this belief.
Stay focused on your WHY and WHAT
Think about the big picture vision you have for your life and/or the longer term goal you’re trying to achieve. Why does this matter to you? Why is this important? What will success look and feel like? Fill your mind with thoughts, feelings and images related to your WHY and WHAT. Know that you are currently just experiencing some short term discomfort or temptation and that your longer term goals are more important than this.
Sprinkle inspiration on everything
For me external inspiration is kind of like adding seasoning to food. It’s not the substance or completely required but it does make everything more enjoyable. In the times when I need more willpower I’ll dial up the inspiration (yay for the internet!). I love reading success stories about people who have similar goals to me…what was their journey like? What challenges did they overcome? What tips do they share? I also love inspiring quotes and memes on instagram and facebook 🙂 Sometimes I’ll even look back to challenges and successes in my own life and reflect on what I did to get through them (yes, you can be your own inspiration!).
Ignore & forget
If something is tempting you or distracting you from your goals a great tactic is to ignore it. Don’t think about it, look at it or talk about it. I see people spending a lot of time talking about the “bad foods” they are craving or continuously looking at food they say they shouldn’t be eating. The problem here is that this causes your brain to continually focus on this food! If you can’t ignore something then try distracting yourself from it. Talk to someone, go for a walk or get involved in something else that requires 100% of your attention!
If ignoring and forgetting something hasn’t worked then try delaying it for a period of time. This can help check if you really want or need it. If you feel like something sweet straight after lunch try waiting for one hour and then see if you still want it. If you’ve found a new clothing or household item you want but possibly don’t need – try waiting two weeks before purchasing it.
Build in small rewards
From time to time I make little deals with myself especially when it comes to starting and finishing tasks. If you do A, then you can have or do B or if you don’t do A you can have or do B. Of course the real reward is the long behavioural change taking place and the accompanying benefits (both intrinsic and external). However, sometimes in the short term these small rewards can really make a difference.
Take pride in saying NO
Sometimes life is testing. It can feel as though the world is against you and everyone is trying to make things hard. Be stronger than that. Learn to prioritise your needs and care less about what other people may think if you say no (no one cares as much as you think they do). Embrace the fact that you GET to make a choice and make the choice you want and need to make for you.
Jade is a Lifestyle Coach, Personal Trainer and Organisational Development Consultant. To find out more or book in a consultation email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone/text 027 360 20 30.