Willpower is what allows you control your behaviour. Willpower is the thing that turns off the T.V. because it’s time for bed, or gets you out of bed because it’s time for work. Willpower is what helps you do the things you don’t want to; it’s what helps you not do the the things you do want to (like calling your boss a jerk?). Without willpower society would crumble; without willpower we would all live (not very long perhaps) on steak, pie, donuts and beer; ok, I speak for myself there.
Willpower is essential in the pursuit of goals, we need it in order to effect any change in behaviour; motivation alone is not enough.
Imagine willpower as energy of the mind; much like you get exhausted after physical exertion, you can also get exhausted through mental exertion. Another similarity to physical exertion is that the rate of depletion can vary depending on the strenuosity of the particular task. The psychological term for this is ego-depletion. Numerous psychological studies have shown that willpower is an exhaustible resource and understanding this could have a profound effect on the way you approach your goals.
There is no question that willpower varies between people; however, there are things you can do to maximise your own.
First, what drains your willpower?
There are physical contributors; lack of sleep, poor diet and illness. All three of these share a common link and that link is glucose. Adequate sleep is essential for healthy metabolic function and the amount of sleep you get can have a big influence on the type of foods you choose to eat; paradoxically, what you eat can influence the quality of your sleep, and, of course, how you eat will affect your glucose levels. When you are ill, your glucose are also reduced. You will probably note that when you are tired, ill or hungry you have less willpower to get things done and you are more irritable (i.e., less able to control your emotional responses).
There are also psychological contributors; dealing with stress, making decisions, controlling thoughts & emotional reactions and controlling behaviour – consider those hard days at work and getting home thinking you cannot be bothered to cook.
How can you recharge it?
- Don’t beat yourself up over mistakes – self-flagellation is stress inducing and will drain you more;
- Have healthy snack (or meal if the time is right); get those glucose levels up;
- Take a time out; relax and do something that doesn’t require you to think or make decisions;
- Laughing and other positive social interactions can also be rejuvenating.
How can you optimise it?
- Eat proactively – not leaving it till you’re too hungry. Studies have shown that low blood-sugar levels are linked to low willpower, which means that it is incredibly important to eat properly;
- Make sure you get enough sleep; if you don’t rest properly and are thus tired the effort required to function is that much greater, and as a consequence willpower reserves are depleted quicker;
- Exercise regularly (keep fit)
- Practice; start small, by sorting your posture or making tiny tweaks, like recognising when you’re stressed and relaxing your shoulders more – over time, exercising control will get easier.
In order to be successful when pursuing your goals, you need to be smart about how you approach them, this includes understanding what stresses you and keeping it to a minimum or, if you can’t avoid it, plan your activities around your willpower peaks; for example, if you are trying to get to the gym regularly, you might consider going before work rather than after, the idea being that you will have higher levels of willpower in the morning.
As stated, every time a decision is made and control is exercised, you are left with less willpower; once the reserves are gone, people are much less likely to power through with positive action. Knowing that simply making decisions taxes our reserves can be transformational; the trick is to try and develop habits and decide in advance.
Saying that you cannot do something because you do not have the willpower is an entirely defeatist excuse; instead you should better understand the nature of willpower and how you can maximise, and make the most of, yours.
One of the fundamental things to take from this is that if you want to maximise your chances of successfully achieving your goals, you need to take care of yourself; understand your day and what drains you; schedule your time so you eliminate the need to make choices, especially in the evening. Above all, eat and rest properly.
I am Sage.