A strategy to help you achieve the things that matter most to you.
Temptation. The temptation to go off our diet. The temptation to skip workouts. The temptation to overspend when we go shopping with family and friends. The temptation to not work on the goals or hobbies that matter to us because we are simply exhausted from the physical and emotional drain of all of the above.
And learning how to control these urges may in fact be the key to reclaiming our personal sense of power and increasing our happiness.
Inc.’s article “6 Ways to Develop Greater Willpower and Discipline” cites Kelly McGonigal, author of The Willpower Instinct, who relays that the ability to control our urges lies in our pre-frontal cortex. This area of the brain controls behavior regulation and decision-making, and in a single day, our willpower becomes utterly depleted of its energy to handle the multitude of temptations we humans face every day.
Think simply of your mornings, for instance. The minute our alarm clock goes off, our willpower is put to the test. Sleep for fifteen more minutes or get up and prepare for work? We get dressed and ponder our morning meal. Will we have fruit for breakfast or a pumpkin latte and danish from that amazing cafe we drive past on the way to work?
Our willpower muscle starts its “workout” the minute we wake, and when it is spent and “on empty,” it can lead us to give in to those desires that we know will derail our goals and ambitions.
The article “What is Ego Depletion” reports an experiment where participants were given two jobs. The jobs concerned a mixture of items. One group was simply questioned on how often they had used these items. The other group was asked to choose between the items. The goal here was to see if the group asked to make decisions fared worse in the next segment of the experiment that tested the use of willpower.
The second part of the challenge asked these same participants to hold their hands in frigid water for as long as they could. Their results showed “the participants who did not have to make any choices [in the first part of the study] held out longer than those in the second group.”
Okay. So we all know that we can’t stop the never-ending barrage of choices that we are forced to make daily. So what’s a person to do?
It’s clear that our willpower needs some friendly support, and the good news is, we can help it out by doing certain things.
Real Simple’s article “5 Ways to Increase Your Willpower” states that all the choices we make “[draw] on our store of glucose, which carries energy to the muscles and the brain.” In order to keep our glucose levels in check, they recommend “regular meals that are full of protein and good carbohydrates.”
Onlymyhealth.com recommends foods such as whole-grain cereal, eggs, and fruits and vegetables such as “lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelon, strawberry shakes, and orange juice to keep you energized.”
In addition, The Center for Nutritional Studies mentions that “complex carbohydrates like a banana or some oatmeal or a bean burrito will support your brain glucose much more effectively.”
The Art of Manliness recommends making schedules and routines to help take away the choice aspect of the willpower conundrum. In other words, you need to make a plan concerning the things needed to achieve your goals and ambitions and stick to it.
For example, if your goal is to exercise, you need to create a set time where you will do so, and commit to it being a “non-negotiable.” If your goal is to complete a work project, you need to create a time and place each day where you will go to accomplish this endeavor. You should be as specific as possible. What time will you work on the task? How long will you engage in the task? How many days a week [or what particular days] will you schedule these activities?
When you set this routine, it should be made in such a way that outside variables are less likely to derail progress. For instance, don’t plan a time to do these things when other obligations may intrude.
Quite simply, the more we plan ahead, the less we use up our willpower.
Next, brainstorm all the things that may be present in your environment that may derail your goals and ambitions. Then, as much as possible, remove these temptations.
For example, if you are on a diet, rid your home of foods and snacks that might entice you to eat badly. If you are on a budget, leave the credit cards at home or only take a set amount of money that you will be comfortable spending. If you know that social media often derails your productivity on the job, turn off notification sounds and the like that may distract your focus.
WebMD cites this technique as “precommitting” and reports that this technique will help to “take willpower out of the occasion” because you are “[scrubbing] your environment of temptations you know are likely to test you.”
The technique of visualization has been frequently correlated with success in almost any endeavor and is used by world-class athletes, celebrities, and successful individuals in general.
But visualization is not just imagining the attainment of the goal. More important is visualizing the process of completing said goal or aim, especially as it relates to the challenges you may encounter or other unavoidable or inadvertent obstacles that may present themselves.
For example, Psychology Today’s article entitled “How to Win the Willpower Battle” recommends imagining “taking the very first action [needed to accomplish your goal], then [seeing] yourself bumping into the obstacle, then implementing your solution to get around the obstacle and then finally achieving the outcome.”
In summary, if we are preemptively exposed to future challenges in our mind’s eye and prepared with a good plan of attack to overcome these problematic situations, our brains will require less energy to handle such events, thus keeping our willpower levels high.
The bottom line
Henry Ward Beecher says that “all men are tempted. There is no man that lives that can’t be broken down, provided it is the right temptation, put in the right spot.”
Yes, at times we all fall victim to temptation. But when we need our willpower most, we can improve the chances that it will be there for us, ready to help us along our journey to our best selves.