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We’ve all experienced countless situations in life where we couldn’t seem to gain control of our conflicting urges. You may find yourself unable to resist the temptation of smoking a cigarette, despite clearly wanting to quit. Or, you could be struggling to hold back a secret that your inner voice tells you to share with your partner.
Willpower is something that we struggle with in our day-to-day lives. That’s because these conflicts are internal, and often result from two powerful opposing voices.
Willpower is controlled by the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the part that also regulates self-control and decision-making. Therefore, the most effective way to control your willpower is to take care of this part of your brain.
Willpower and the Marshmallow Experiment
One of the most popular experiments ever conducted to examine the power of the will is the Marshmallow Experiment. The Marshmallow Experiment, which began in the 1960s, was spearheaded by psychologist Walter Mischel.
In the experiment, 4-year old children were allowed to choose between having one marshmallow now, and two marshmallows if they could wait for 15 minutes. As these kids grew into adults, researchers were able to track their performance, especially with regards to willpower and decision-making.
It was observed that the children who resisted the temptation of one marshmallow now in favor of two 15 minutes later achieved greater academic and financial success. This demographic was also marked by better health and reduced rates of criminal offenses and divorce, compared to the group that considered one marshmallow now.
From this experiment alone, it’s abundantly clear that choosing deferred gratification over instant gratification is one of the powerful ways to nurture willpower.
Numerous subsequent studies and experiments investigating the power of the will have corroborated the findings by the Marshmallow Experiment. Some studies went as far as to compare sibling pairs, just to show how delayed gratification positively impacted the participants’ willpower as they grew up.
Now, one thing is for sure – we all long to always be in control of our willpower. But managing two conflicting urges isn’t a walk in the park. Fortunately for you, we’ve gathered some of the time-tested strategies that you can implement to supercharge your willpower.
10 Tips to Improve Your Willpower
1. Have a Workout Routine
Healthy dieting goes hand in hand with working out. But the goal here is to always exceed your own limits.
If you did ten reps yesterday, consider 11 today, 12 tomorrow, and keep on raising the bar as you go. Pushing your limits will gradually enable you to work towards a higher achievement.
2. Nourish Your Mind With the Right Foods
“You’re what you it.” This age-old adage, no matter how often repeated, has never lost its meaning. And it particularly rings true as far as boosting your willpower is concerned. Choosing the right foods to nourish your mind doesn’t have to be a painstaking process.
The general rule is to eat regular balanced diets, focusing on healthy proteins, complex carbohydrates, as well as fruits and veggies. Once you’ve established the healthy diets required to optimize the performance of your brain, log all the foods that you eat daily, either using a food diary or a fitness app.
Meditation isn’t just a technique for connecting with your higher power. It’s also an excellent strategy that trains your brain to resist the urge to wander and instead, focus on the present moment.
According to studies, meditating for 10 minutes for about 3 days can boost your mental focus and energy levels. And there are numerous YouTube audio tracks that you might consider meditating to, just to spice up the experience.
4. Increase Your Capacity to Manage Pressure
Stress is part and parcel of life. But when you’re stressed, your body expends a lot of energy in making decisions on the spur. That energy would have been used by your prefrontal cortex in making more informed decisions.
Whenever you feel overwhelmed, the conventional wisdom is to defer any decision making. Instead, take a deep breath and allow the stress levels to dissipate, then all the energy your body would have used will be redirected to your prefrontal cortex.
5. Visualize Your Goals
Nothing fuels your willpower than always having the image of your goals in front of you whenever you want to make a decision. The image can be a mental or physical one, depending on your level of commitment to your goals.
But experts recommend something physical, as it’s more realistic. For instance, if you’re struggling to quit cigarette smoking, you can carry a photo portraying clean lungs in your wallet wherever you go.
6. Have Enough Sleep
Sleep deprivation is closely linked to anxiety. Collectively, insomnia and anxiety impair the functionality of your prefrontal cortex. That adversely affects your response to cravings, which ultimately interferes with your willpower.
According to numerous studies, the brain scans of people that sleep at least 6.5 hours every night show no visible signs of prefrontal cortex impairment.
7. Prioritize Your Tasks
Willpower is limited. Your willpower is usually highest in the morning. But as the day unfolds and you make more decisions, it gradually empties, just like a gas tank.
That underscores the importance of prioritizing your daily to-dos. Always take care of the most important and urgent tasks in the morning, when your willpower is strongest.
8. Work On Your Posture
This is another simple yet powerful strategy that can help you to work on your willpower. It involves correcting your posture whenever you catch yourself slouching. The strategy directly improves your perseverance, thereby strengthening your willpower.
Should you get a posture corrector for this? Well, not recommended. A posture corrector will prevent you from slouching, alright. But the goal is to ensure you maintain an upright position on your own.
9. Anticipate Roadblocks
When you’re pursuing your goals, it’s convenient to be optimistic and hope that things will work out to your expectations. However, neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt argues that it’s healthy to also consider the possibility that things could go wrong.
If you’re planning a weekend party over, shop for more foods than the number of the invitees. You never know how many more people will turn up.
10. Be Extra Mindful of Your Automatic Decisions
Everyone has their automatic decisions. Maybe you cannot resist the desire to go drink with your buddies, or the temptation to snack on junk foods.
After understanding your automatic decisions, develop a habit of always deferring them. Before you make such decisions, take time to assess the merit of each choice. Any decision that involves sacrificing long-term success for short-term pleasures isn’t worthy of consideration.
Like most other positive habits, a strong willpower takes time to develop. But if you follow the tips we’ve mentioned above diligently and patiently, it will only be a matter of time before you gain complete control of your urges.