Willpower: How To Get More Self-Control

5 simple health tips you can adopt to fight your urges & cravings now

May 21, 2016

As all of us who have tried and failed get out of bed for a morning run, or not been able to resist a third piece of cake, or {insert vice here!}, know that when it comes to committing to healthier habits, most uneducated resolutions end in failure. Unless you’re Superman or Gwyneth Paltrow, lots of us seem to have a problem with keeping up our willpower and self-control in order to keep healthy habits going. 

Luckily for us mere mortals, there are things we can do to increase our willpower capacity. Baumeister, author of Willpower: Rediscovering our Greatest Strength says you should try and think of your willpower like a mental or moral muscle – it can be trained to be stronger, but will also get tired if you use it too much.

Your willpower ‘muscle’ is located in the pre-frontal cortex part of your brain, which also controls behaviours like your emotional responses, judgement and attention, so your self-control has so much to contend with it's no wonder that it sometimes goes on pause! To help you on your way, here are 5 effective tips to increase your willpower and self-control and start creating healthy habits towards your mind:

Meditate

Meditation has been cited by Kelly McGonigal in The Willpower Instinct as the No.1 way to increase your willpower. It does this by building up grey matter in the areas of the brain that regulate emotions and govern decision making. And don’t worry, McGonigal’s research has shown that you don’t have to meditate all of your life to achieve this, as even short daily meditations for 8 weeks will do the job!

Pick Your Battles

McGonigal also explains that because the pre-frontal cortex is also involved in other activities like concentrating at work or controlling anger levels, your self-control is a finite source and will weaken throughout the day as other things take up energy from your brain. Therefore, arrange your day so you can complete the most challenging tasks first when your energy and willpower are high.

The 5 Minute Trick

When you are contemplating a long run or a mammoth email session, the sheer size or effort involved in the task can put you off. Therefore, use the 5-minute trick – commit yourself to a 5 minute run or say you will send off 1 email. This is a mind trick, as once you have started and are engaged, you are far more likely to go beyond the 5 minutes you originally promised yourself. 

Positive Thinking

Studies have show that willpower depends heavily on our beliefs. Professor and willpower expert Carol Dwerk, maintains that to increase willpower and prevent you from fatigue, you should try and view tasks as being energising. Changing your mental model to see something as invigorating rather than tiring will not only help you do this task, it will improve your performance on a later task that also requires willpower.  

Eat Chocolate (Yes, Really!)

The brain runs on energy from glucose, so when you have little glucose in your body, your brain is lacking energy and therefore you are lacking willpower, meaning you decide to stay on the sofa rather than go for a run. Baumeister ran tests that he outlines in Willpower: Rediscovering our Greatest Strength, that prove when you are seriously lacking willpower, a piece of chocolate will help you regain the energy you need in your brain to power through. 

So, whether it’s meditation, thinking positively or even some chocolate (thank you, science!), a better understanding of your willpower capacities and how to improve your ‘willpower muscle’ is sure to help you improve your overall health and mental powers!

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