willpower – (noun)
1. the ability to control oneself and determine one’s actions
2. firmness of will
Most humans living in first world nations are control freaks, whether they admit it or not. We become used to things happening when we want. Much of what we do is automated and preplanned. We set timers, alarm clocks, have notices buzz on our iPhones, and frequently can find ways around hard work. In most instances, we have control and mastery over our environment. Unfortunately, the last frontier of control for 21st century man is our ability to motivate and control ourselves and our actions. It would appear that willpower is the last remaining frontier for modern man.
I’m sure all of us can relate to being determined to do something and then not following through. Exercise routines, diet, and simple acts of self-discipline and denial can become overwhelming when confronted by a lack of willpower. Willpower is the secret sauce that separates successful, happy, and fit people from the rest of the pack. Some people are blessed in that they have enough willpower to attain their goals without a lot of thought. Others, not so much. Lack of willpower is one of those “if only,” thought processes that keeps us from attaining a lot of the things that we would like to have, be, and do. Research indicates that if you’re in that 90% bracket of people who feel they don’t have enough willpower, then you can create it. Willpower, like any other human behavior, can be improved through a systematic study of the relation between mind and body. Like they used to say about the Six Million Dollar man, “We can rebuild him.”
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a perfect strategy for you to use to improve your willpower, or even create some if you have absolutely none. Nobody has absolutely none, but at times it sure can feel that way. CBT trains mind and body to act in a more rational, realistic way. Proper thinking and correct behaviors are the critical factors in most things that humans do, and utilizing willpower is no different. The way we think and feel will determine what we do. Building willpower is a product of correcting maladaptive and ingrained thought processes and then acting in ways that we are consciously and thoughtfully choosing.
Here are some mindbody strategies that will get you going in the right direction:
1. Get enough sleep. It’s absolutely impossible exert any willpower over any aspect of your life if you are fatigued. Many people erroneously think that having willpower means to be able to function while sleep deprived. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most people believe that they can get by with less than eight hours, but very few can. Nothing erodes drive and willpower more quickly than being tired. Willpower is analogous to a muscle, it only has so much energy and strength that it can exert. Being sleep deprived is probably the number one reason that people do not have enough willpower. While there will be some variation from person to person about how much sleep is the optimal amount, shoot for eight hours. Virtually no one should get less than 6.5 hours per night, and for most people over 8.5 to 9 hours is too much.. Vince Lombardi was right, fatigue does make cowards of us all.
2. Keep yourself in good physical condition. When the body is not fit and strong, it sends signals to the brain indicating weakness and this sets off thoughts that reinforce powerlessness. The “I can’t” thoughts start and willpower evaporates quickly. If a body is fit and strong, the opposite tends to occur. Your body is the vehicle that carries you through life and the brain is the engine that drives it. It doesn’t work well if your mind and body are not in sync. A combination of adequate physical and mental energy is key. If you have a daily regimen of exercise that challenges you physically, then you are used to sucking it up and doing what you have to do despite not feeling like it. Your exercise routine doesn’t have to be a killer, but it should be enough to push you physically and mentally. If you’re used to doing this with an exercise routine, this will carry over to having willpower in other areas of your life. Your routine can be simple, but it must be a challenge for you.
3. Do some kind of meditation practice. Meditation teaches the brain to focus on specific things and maintain focus. Willpower is nothing more than a type of focus that you maintain on a specific task. As little as five minutes a day has been proven to yield positive changes in as little as eight weeks. And, if you are someone who struggles with the idea of meditating, there’s good news, the worse you are at it, the better it is for building your willpower. Start by finding a comfortable place to sit, set a timer for five minutes and focus on your breathing. When you get distracted return to your breathing, and when you get discouraged remember that the more difficult this is for you, the better it is for your willpower.
4. Maintain a well-balanced diet and be more aware of good nutrition. Excess simple sugar, carbohydrates, and too much alcohol can erode your willpower very quickly. Low blood sugar is the silent assassin that kills willpower and is the cause of mood swings. Your diet should be a combination of plant-based nutrition and good, clean, proteins in the form of lean meats, fish, and chicken. Vegetables are, for most adults, an underutilized source of good nutrition. That Danish and coffee mid-morning, or that continental breakfast, can be a willpower killer. That heavy lunch has the potential to wipe out your willpower for the rest of the day. Beware of what you consume.
5. Breathe, breathe, breathe! Fresh air is the most important, and least considered, thing that you consume. Be aware of your breathing and the quality of the air around you. Even if you work in an enclosed building in the middle of a congested city, there’s probably some place you can go during the day to gulp down some better quality air. An oxygenated brain is going to make better decisions and be more able to stick to the tasks before you.
6. Give yourself daily willpower challenges. Force yourself to do something every day that you want to do but just don’t feel like. It might be that phone call, it might be cleaning that filthy bathtub, it might be that exercise routine that you’ve been thinking about starting. It can be anything. Just do it! Afterwards to give yourself a pat on the back and acknowledge that you did something you didn’t feel like doing. Rinse and repeat as often as possible.
7. Don’t over think things. Too much thinking and intellectualizing kills willpower. If you are prone to a lack of willpower or procrastination, your brain will find a reason why you don’t have to or should do something. Be aware of analysis paralysis. George Patton said that a decent plan executed today is much better a perfect plan executed a week from now. General Patton was a man who knew a little something about willpower.
8. Plan ahead. Having a plan for how you will cope with those “I don’t feel like it” thoughts that you know you are going to have is important. The strongest force in nature is the desire to return to the way things were. Willpower is no different. You have to elevate your baseline of willpower by having a strategic and well thought out plan of attack. Plan ahead for how you will change your self talk, body language, and behavior to push through these moments of weakness and doubt. Positive visualization, where you see yourself in your mind’s eye doing the difficult thing, prepares you to do the right thing when doubt and weakness sets in. Be ready for it.
9. Practice delayed gratification. Learn to do the difficult things first and the easier things later. By tackling difficult and challenging tasks first, you make everything else easier. If you maintain a daily “to do” list, tackle the harder things first. This sets you up in a positive way to get the rest of the list accomplished, and subtly reinforces a self image of a person with a lot of willpower. Self-help author Brian Tracy says if you’ve got 3 frogs to kiss, start with the ugliest ones. Good advice for someone trying to build some willpower.
Willpower is the combination of mind, body, and spirit. If you weren’t blessed with it at birth, build it yourself. Diligent practice of these nine steps is not time-consuming, but it will dramatically improve your life.
“You cannot be disciplined in great things and undisciplined in small things.” – George S. Patton
P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at email@example.com