It seems that the goals we set for ourselves, whether it be losing weight or organizing our home, can be achieved as long as we have the willpower to do it. Trouble is, willpower is not just something that can magically appear — it takes much more than talking yourself into doing something. In the book “Willpower Instinct” ($17), it's described as a metaphorical muscle that you can train to have more willpower. On the flip side, willpower is not an unlimited resource, and you can overexhaust it to the point where you give up. Here are some of the best strategies author Kelly McGonigal mentions in her book:
Meditate for just five to 10 minutes a day, and you'll see a remarkable change in your willpower. Meditation can also help you better snap out of your cravings and bring you back to reality. And don't worry if you're having trouble meditating and focusing. McGonigal says that being "bad" at meditation is actually good for self-control. You'll be more focused after practicing, because you'll be able to better catch yourself moving away from the goal and recognize your impulses.
Get started by reading these helpful tips on meditation.
Relaxing will help ease stress, which in turns boosts your willpower reserve. You might think that's easy and start kicking back with your favorite TV show or a big meal. However, true relaxation, according to the book, is giving your body and mind a break to trigger the physiological relaxation response. In a relaxed state, your heart rate and breathing slow down, blood pressure drops, muscles release tension, and more.
McGonigal recommends to lie in bed, close your eyes, and take deep breaths. If your body is tense, she suggests flexing the muscle in the affected parts of your body and letting it go. Studies show that people who practice daily relaxation exercises had healthier physiological responses to stressful willpower challenges.
3. Make small deadlines.
Researchers found that if participants control one small thing that they aren't used to controlling, it helps to train and strengthen the willpower muscle. You can do this by setting small deadlines and trying to tackle a task piecemeal. For example, if your goal is to eat healthy, you can set a minigoal of just browsing the produce aisle in the supermarket in the first week, then resolve to cook one healthy meal for the second week.
Keep setting these small deadlines for a few months, and without realizing it, you'll accomplish what you set out to do. The consistent act of self-control can increase overall willpower, says McGonigal.
4. Remember the reasoning.
Before you give in to your impulse, try to remember why you resolved not to do it in the first place. Think of your long-term goals, and compare them to the short-term satisfaction you get from caving into temptation. You'll then realize that the "treat" is now a threat and an obstacle to your goals.