Exercising Your Willpower Muscles

I was watching TV the other day and noticed a TV commercial for giving up smoking.  The purpose of the commercial was to reinforce that willpower is like a muscle that gets stronger with use.

Motivational psychologist and author, Heidi Grant Halvorson, says in her Harvard Business Review article that building willpower is one of the nine things successful people do.  She says that our “self-control” muscle is just like any other muscle in our body – when it is not used very much it becomes weaker over time.  Just like regular physical exercise, when we workout our willpower muscle by putting it to good use, it grows stronger and stronger and enables us to reach our goals more quickly and efficiently.

To build our willpower, Heidi recommends taking on a challenge that requires us to do something that we would rather not do.  This might be giving up smoking, take-away food, coffee, chocolate or alcohol; doing 100 sit-ups a day or 5 rounds of salute to the sun yoga each morning; meditating for 20 minutes a day; standing up straight when you feel yourself slouching; not watching, reading or talking about negative things etc.

Start with one activity and maintain it for 21 days (the time it takes to form a strong neural pathway – a new habit).  When you find yourself wanting to give up, give in or not start in the first place – DON’T!  Plan forward to design a strategy to deal with these potential “fail points”.  For example, if I have a craving for a snack midafternoon I have 2 tablespoons of low-fat yogurt. If I feel like coffee I will have decaf coffee or a herb tea.  If I feel like talking about a negative event or situation I will fine 3 things to be grateful for.

It is often hard in the beginning, but over time it becomes much easier.  As our strength grows we can take on more challenges and increase the intensity of our “self-control” workout.

The other eight things that successful people do differently are:

  1. Setting specific, clear goals – an arrow without a target is just a stick.  You need to keep your eye on the bullseye to reach it.
  2. Seize the moment to act on your goals – plan for success and take inspired action.  What are 3 things you will do each day to achieve your goals?
  3. Monitor progress towards your goals – and adjust your strategies or behaviour accordingly to reach your goals.
  4. Be a realistic optimist – believe in yourself and have tenacity to keep on going to achieve your goals.
  5. Focus on getting better, rather than being good – our abilities are not fixed and so we can grow and learn new ways of being that will make it easier to reach our goals.  Begin by asking yourself the question, “Who do I need to become to have my big goals?”, and then work at developing these skills and attributes each day to achieve it.
  6. Have grit – this is the willingness to commitment to long-term goals.
  7. Pace yourself – don’t make your goal getting harder than it needs to be.  Plan, persist and have good strategies to achieve your goals.
  8. Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want – the mind can’t do don’t.  So focus on what you want and what you will do to achieve your goals, rather than what you don’t want and what you won’t do.

My willpower workout for the past 2 months has been to reduce my alcohol consumption, cut out carbs and increase my protein intake to achieve my ideal weight of 60 kg.  I am nearly there!

I would be thrilled if you would share your willpower workouts with me.

Posted in On Success