Willpower: I’ve spent much of my life curious about why some people have it, and some don’t. Some say they’re going to lose 10 pounds and they do it without struggle.
The rest of us struggle to some degree. Should I have the fries or the salad? We argue with ourselves, and the angel and the devil on our shoulders seem to be in cahoots to keep us going in circles.
Willpower Is a Learned Skill
I spent two years researching the topic of willpower in the fields of psychology and neuroscience. I discovered that willpower, a quality I thought was reserved for a certain set of people, can be learned. Here is a sampling of mindsets those with strong willpower possess.
1. Clearly define what you want.
How do you know you’re “giving in” or “resisting” if you don’t even know what outcome you desire? Gaining clarity on your goals eliminates room for negotiation, a fierce willpower killer.
The first step to developing great willpower is to get crystal clear on what you want your life to be like and why. This helps you clearly define what actions to take and what to avoid. (Hint: it helps greatly if your “why” ties into a higher purpose that’s much bigger than you.)
2. Believe you can.
While we don’t have control over everything, we have total control over what kind of behavior we expect of ourselves. Whatever we believe is true, because our choices reflect what we believe.
If your belief is “It’s too hard,” then you will act in line with that belief. Doubt prevents us from making real effort. People with extraordinary willpower know that you will achieve what you believe. When you think you’ll succeed, you’ll find ways to do just that.
3. Solve problems instead of giving up.
Change is uncomfortable, and so when most people bump up against an obstacle, they’re happy to throw in the towel and see that as an excuse to maintain the status quo.
Those with great willpower see a bump in the road and take a moment to figure out how to get around it. With practice, anyone can become a creative problem solver, and it’s a lot more fun than giving up and staying stuck.
4. Take full responsibility.
The fastest way to get trapped in unhealthy habits is to blame circumstances and people for that which you have control over.
People with extraordinary willpower fully accept the statement, “I alone am responsible for my actions, my habits and my life.” No matter how you were raised or what kind of day you had, instead of looking to blame, divert your attention to how you can succeed and how you can follow through with healthy decisions and actions.
5. Be willing to pay the price.
When we fear the pain that change brings, we get stuck inside the tiny bubble of our “comfort zone” that represents familiar behaviors, thoughts and feelings.
People with extraordinary willpower know they’ll endure a certain level of discomfort to get what they want. They understand that stretching and pushing themselves out of their comfort zone is simply part of the system of change.
6. Be fully present to your emotions.
Many of us will grab a pint of ice cream or a glass of wine at the first sign of distress. (Wine and snacking in front of the TV were my go-to stress relievers prior to my research.)
Emotions? Yuck! Except for the happy one, right? Well, no, not really. Emotions help us navigate through life. As Albert Einstein said, “Discontent is the first necessity of progress.” When you feel your feelings and stay in touch with your own needs and desires for your life, you focus on making improvements rather than avoidance.
7. Be open to positive possibilities.
Our brains are like a filter, clinging to all the negative experiences we have as we go through life as “learning experiences,” while tossing aside the positive experiences as “flukes” or coincidences. Psychologists call this the negativity bias, and we’re all inflicted with it.
When you become conscious of this tendency, it gets easier to flip the equation and focus on what’s working and what you’re doing right, which is an essential motivating element of sticking to your plans.
8. Love yourself unconditionally.
Many of us think we can whip ourselves and our lives into shape by punishing ourselves with diets or routines we don’t even like. That’s a miserable way to live, and it sets us up to swing in the direction of overindulgence once we’ve had enough torture.
In order to from habits, a key component is pleasure. We’ve been wrongly conditioned to think that hard work, healthy food and exercise aren’t pleasurable. What we often forget is that healthy habits and productive actions can easily be enjoyable when we consciously frame them that way.
To strengthen your willpower, get creative in finding pleasurable and healthy ways to show yourself unconditional love.
9. Focus on values, not perfection.
When we act from a place of expecting perfection, we keep our lives restricted by rules to maintain a false sense of control, which results in a fear of making mistakes. Perfectionism is a pass/fail game that cannot be won. When we inevitably make mistakes because we’re only human, we experience a crisis of confidence, hopelessness or shame.
When we drop perfectionism and instead we focus on our values — which encompasses the big picture and our “why” of point number one — we’re better able to learn from mistakes. This promotes wisdom, improvement and growth. We get better over time at recognizing how certain behaviors add to or subtract from our positive experience of life and it gets easier to steer our choices accordingly.
10. Don’t judge others negatively for having what you want.
Frankly, it’s much easier to criticize others than it is to go after what we really want in life, but while we’re busy judging and comparing, we have way less time and energy left over to make our own lives great.
People with extraordinary willpower look objectively at other people’s success, admire the hard work that went into it, and use that as inspiration. Rather than begrudging others for having what we want, we can develop extraordinary willpower by directing our energy towards figuring out what we want in life and making it happen.
By: Katie Morton