Science has shown us that when it comes to your life the qualities that lead to the most positive outcomes are intelligence and self-control.
I’ve covered building intelligence a bit here but I hate to say… and my apologies to you, that I have not covered self-control.
Now the funny thing about self-control is that it’s something you currently have and display everyday more often than you don’t. However, whenever you are asked or take one of those quizzes about your greatest strengths you probably never acknowledge your willpower or self-control.
So what’s up with that?
It’s most likely because you’re focusing too much on the negative, what’s going wrong, what you don’t like, and how much you’re struggling.
- How you can’t stop eating that damn ice cream
- How you can’t focus long enough to finish a certain project
- How you just don’t have enough willpower to quite smoking, wake up earlier, or take that cold shower 🙂 (cough) Aaron (cough)(cough)
Well give yourself some credit. You probably already dominate willpower regularly.
- Getting up out of bed requires mad willpower
- Going to work everyday=willpower
- Exercising, boom! Willpower
- Brushing your teeth…. yup, willpower.
- Not popping your kids when they’re yelling and screaming at you.
- Not grabbing that cute guy or girls tush… ok, I’ve said too much 🙂
All day long you’re probably crushing willpower. Take a few moments right now. Think about your day today or yesterday. List 5-10 areas you displayed willpower. Seriously, do it now. Don’t just read this and move on. Take action and create awareness.
Radishes and chocolate: All problems start & end with self control.
A little while back I finished a book called Willpower: Rediscovering the greatest human strength. It is down right one the most informative and life changing books I have come across and this post has been inspired by it.
The book discusses an experiment that the author Roy Baumeister and colleagues conducted with a group of 67 participants now known as the radish and chocolate experiment.
In the experiment Baumesiter measures the impact of resisting tempting food has on willpower.
In the first part of the trial, Baumeister kept the 67 study participants in a room that smelled of freshly baked chocolate cookies and then teased them further by showing them the actual treats alongside other chocolate-flavored confections. While some did get to indulge their sweet tooth, the subjects in the experimental condition, whose resolves were being tested, were asked to eat radishes instead. And they weren’t happy about it. As the scientists noted in their Journal of Personality and Social Psychology paper two years later (PDF), many of the radish-eaters “exhibit[ed] clear interest in the chocolates, to the point of looking longingly at the chocolate display and in a few cases even picking up the cookies to sniff at them.”
After the food bait-and-switch, Baumeister’s team gave the participants a second, supposedly unrelated exercise, a persistence-testing puzzle. The effect of the manipulation was immediate and undeniable. Those who ate radishes made far fewer attempts and devoted less than half the time solving the puzzle compared to the chocolate-eating participants and a control group that only joined this latter phase of the study. In other words, those who had to resist the sweets and force themselves to eat pungent vegetables could no longer find the will to fully engage in another torturous task. They were already too tired. courtsey of theatlantic.com
The results may seem insignificant but what it helped to prove is that willpower or self-control is not something that you have in unlimited supply. Like a muscle or the gas you use to drive it gets depleted the more you display it. More so with very difficult tasks.
I’ve mentioned the marshmallow study on this site before and how it proved the relationship between self-control and success in health, wealth, and happiness.
Now if you caught yourself thinking negative right now, saying things to yourself like “crap, I have no chance now if I’m just using all my willpower all day long.”
Focus on the positive. What these two studies show you is that just like building muscle you can build your willpower and self-control by training it.
The most common problems I hear and struggle with myself include:
- Personal Finances
- Building/Strengthening relationships
- Career/discovering a calling purpose
and under those bigger bubbles fall things like procrastination, commitment, and focusing.
What we know about willpower and knowing is half the battle
Based on the reading, research, and general chit-chat with some willpower experts I’ve been doing lately here is the dealio with what is going on with willpower
1. Your willpower gets depleted.
- Too much at once
- Sleep deprivation
- Poor diet
- Limited exercise
- Practicing or using willpower during the day
Are some of the ways that you willpower gets used up or is affected over the course of a day.
2. Willpower is the same across the board. There is no difference between the willpower you would use for dieting, exercise, fun, work, and not giving the finger to the dude that cut you off this morning.
3. Willpower is used to control you physically, your thoughts, emotions, and impulses.
4. Glucose or sugar helps to fuel your willpower. When your blood sugar is low your willpower is most likely going to be at its lowest. Sleep deprivation contributes to this as well. If you are sleeping poorly consistently your willpower will struggle.
5. Conflicting goals burns through your willpower. If you have goals that are not aligned you are more likely to create unhappiness, worry, stress, and your health is likely to decline. This cycle depletes your willpower.
6. Decision fatigue is a willpower assassin. The more choices that you have or the move decisions that you have to make the more willpower you will use up.
The funny or maybe not so funny thing about this is that it can lead to no decisions being made as well. This is because you convince yourself that if you make one decision than other decisions must be laid to rest. So in essence, you convince yourself that by opening one door you have to close another.
Willpower 101: Self awareness and how to strengthen it
Alright, alright. Enough jibber jabber. Lets talk about how to build a little more willpower and how to be more effective with the supply that you have.
I’m a big fan of journaling. It’s such an amazing way to build awareness and practice something you are looking to improve. I would try creating a willpower journal for yourself that features some of the things below.
1. Watch for the willpower warning signs. Take note of when your emotions, appetite, breathing rate, or stress levels are changing. You’ll usually find some common themes like the time of day, when around certain people, or when you have to perform certain tasks, or in certain situations.
By creating this awareness you’ll be able to better prepare for low levels of willpower in these situations. You may not be able to control willpower but you can plan and prepare for it.
2. Know your limits and respect them. It’s easy to get frustrated with yourself. It should be easy to just not eat that slice of pizza, get up for an early run, start meditating, or read a book a week.
Remember, you don’t have an unlimited supply of willpower. You’re using it all day long. That’s why many of us often have the most trouble with willpower between 4PM and 10PM.
A great way to combat this is by doing the hard things first. When I was trying to establish the meditation habit I always started my day with it. I knew that has the day continued the odds of me doing it slowly got smaller and smaller.
3. Set strict time limits. The more time you have for the completion of a task the more time you will use.
Remember those school days. Whenever a homework assignment or big project was given that had a deadline of a few weeks away you most likely ignored it until the last-minute.
4. You can have it later. Do you set nearly impossible rules when you are trying to achieve something? Take a look to see if you are restrict yourself severely in some way, especially if it has a lot to do with things you find extremely pleasurable.
That’s no way to live man!
You don’t have to give up anything completely. Tell yourself you can have it later. Pick a day and if you still want it then, go for it.
Why is that?
It’s because now you have no choice. If given the option most will delay, delay, delay because doing what matters takes work is often hard. It takes willpower.
One way to implement strict time limits is to start time-boxing activities. Time boxing is setting a strict time limit to work on a particular task, activity, exercise, or whatever really.
So say you want to start writing a blog post, you would give yourself an hour to get what you can get done in that hour. If it’s finished, AWESOME! If not, you come back to it at a later time.
This will help you to focus on the most important things in your life. Read more about time boxing in detail here:
Strengthening those willpower muscles.
1. Pre commit like a boss. Make it easier to do the good stuff and harder to do the bad stuff.
- Perform a kitchen make-over and get ride of the junk food in the house.
- Avoid having to drive somewhere to get your workout in and try working out at home.
- Work on that side business at the coffee shop and maybe not at home where there are often more distractions.
2. Motivate yourself. Create your own motivational messages that are easy to access.
Write down awesome quotes on an index card and carry them around with youth read when you’re feeling like you may break.
Create a vision board or Pinterest page that has pictures and words of goals you are trying to achieve.
Watch TedX talks, motivational or happy YouTube videos, or day-dream a bit on big achievements you have had in the past.
3. Create a support group of friends and family. You all don’t even have to be trying to achieve the same things. use each other to check-in and see how everyone is doing, provide support, and offer advice.
Ask for help as well. If you’re trying to eat better for instance. Even if the rest of the family is not trying to ask for their support. See if they can help prepare their own meals so you don’t have to stress about making two.
Maybe they can pitch in with some of the house shores so that you have some free time to pursue other interests.
4. Exercise, eat, and sleep. All three of these things when done on a consistent basis help to strengthen those willpower muscles.
Exercise is a wonder drug. It is often said to be more powerful than Zoloft for fighting depression.
Eat right by starting your day with a good breakfast. Make sure to include some healthy fats and protein to help stabilize your blood sugar. Willpower needs fuel to operate just like your body does.
Hibernate like a bear. We covered it a bit earlier but sleep deprivation is closely related to lower levels of self-control.
5. Take happiness breaks. Especially at work, every 50 minutes or so take a 10 minute break to watch a silly youtube video like this one, or go chat with an upbeat co-worker, or laugh a little bit with someone. Laughing and happiness has been shown to strengthen willpower and help replenish it if you’re a tad on the low side…. don’t worry it happens to everyone 🙂 (insert laugh track right here).
6. Kick it with those that have it. Want more willpower, spend as much time with people you think have it. It’s contagious, but in a good way.
7. Practice it. Build your willpower by actively practicing it.
- Wake up at the same time everyday and hop out of bed immediately.
- Take a cold shower.
- Get in a run on your lunch breaks
- Drive the exact speed limit to work everyday. No slower, no faster.
- Read a book instead of watching your favorite show or the big game.
- Sit quietly and meditate for 5 minutes and build up to longer.
- Don’t check your Facebook or email until after 6PM everyday.
All of these simple tasks help to promote willpower. Practice these smaller and easier tasks to help you prepare for the monsters down the road.
What you have to do and the way you have to do it is incredibly simple. Whether you are willing to do it, that’s another matter.” – Peter F. Drucker
So get busy! You already have willpower. Where are you struggling to display it? How can you apply some of these tips to dominate?