How To Boost Willpower
After a hard day at work, do you find that your willpower is exhausted? Is that when you’re most likely to break your diet, and break open a new bag of Oreos? That’s willpower depletion.
Since we can’t avoid all the stresses of life, how do we build our willpower reserves? Here are a few things research has shown can boost willpower (an extra dose of willpower will come in handy when pursuing difficult life changes).
- Blood Glucose
- Start Small
In a study where subjects were asked to exert willpower by hiding their emotions while watching an emotion-educing movie, researchers found that subjects that were given sugar-sweetened lemonade regained willpower, while subjects that were given lemonade with artificial sweetener did not.
Why does this work? Because we are biological beings, and glucose is an important fuel for brain function (for a real-world example, persons who try to quit smoking often use simple-sugar foods to help fend off cravings).
According to Dr. Kathleen Vohs, professor at the University of Minnesota, self-control problems occur when one becomes caught up in the moment and distracted from his/her long-term goals. She explains, “You want to look good in a bikini next summer but you’re looking at a piece of chocolate cake now.’’ The key, according to Dr. Vohs, is to break out of the moment and to focus on long-term goals and values. Tools for making the mental switch: laughter and positive thoughts.
While, in the short term, willpower is a limited resource, over the long term, it can be built up like a muscle. In one study, participants were asked to pay attention to, and correct, their posture for a week. At the end of the week, in comparison to persons who had not been asked to use good posture, those participants performed better on a series of unrelated self-control tasks. Hence, it seems that willpower can be improved, and rather quickly (for a real world example, observant religious persons often use prayers and meditations to help build self-control).
Willpower isn’t an unmovable personal characteristic; it’s a resource that can be exhausted. However, small efforts over time can help persons to build their willpower reserves, thereby helping one to accomplish bigger tasks later on.
*Many of the studies above are present in the work “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength” by Drs. Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.