Building Willpower

You’ve skipped your last two workouts, you’re two weeks into your diet and that pizza place across the street is screaming your name. Sometimes, when you’re trying to make healthy changes, it feels like the willpower machine just runs out of gas. Turns out it actually does; research has shown that the strength of your willpower is partially genetic and, like any muscle, you can train it and make it stronger. How? Let’s look at a few ways.

Practice. Practice More.
We all know that exercise builds physical muscle, it turns out that the same general rule applies to willpower. A study from The Miriam Hospital’s Weight Control and Diabetes research center shows that when you practice self control by resisting unhealthy temptations, like choosing carrot sticks when you could have potato chips or going to your gym even if you’d rather just go home and watch TV, you’re actually strengthening your willpower in all areas of your life.

Start Small
In one study, two groups watched a movie. The first group was told to suppress their emotions, the other wasn’t. At the end, researchers gave everyone ice cream. The group that had to suppress their emotions ate more ice cream than the group that didn’t. The point here is that using willpower (even in a seemingly unrelated part of your life) can drain your will and make you more likely to lose control in other areas. You’re more likely to give in to unhealthy temptations when your willpower is depleted. The easy solution – don’t let your willpower battery drain. Make small changes you know you can be successful with. Studies show that people who practice making small changes can boost their self control in as little as two weeks.

Look at the Big Picture
It’s easy to make a bad decision when your in a “now” mindset. Why not have the cookie? You only live once. In some sense, maybe that’s true, but if you’re constantly living in the moment, chances are that “one cookie” is not one cookie. Remind yourself of your long-term goals and what is really important to you. Is having the cookie more important than the confidence and joy you’ll feel fitting into those skinny jeans? Find a way to keep that all-important goal in your mind. Some people do it by posting bad pictures of themselves up in the kitchen, others write down their goals, have post-it reminders or motivational quotes—whatever works for you. Think about where you are now, where you want to be and why.

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