Got Willpower?

imagesSooo….how’s that goal progressing? You wanted to loose 10 pounds but it’s now late summer and you’ve lost only 2!

imagesYou know what you want to change and you’ve set a clear and actionable goal yet the goal feels elusive and motivation has waned. What’s going on??? Calgon take me away! (Ok, I’m showing my age here. 🙂 )

The cause to our woes just might be lack of willpower.

Whatever your goal is, willpower is a critical component to achieving it. Willpower comes in many names: determination, drive, resolve, self-control, etc.. Willpower is the ability to delay gratification and resist short-term temptations in order to meet your long-term goals. It is the capacity to override unwanted thoughts, feelings or impulses; it is a conscious effort to regulate ourselves by ourselves.

images-1Willpower is not a personality trait, a skill or a virtue. Willpower operates like a muscle, which can be honed and strengthened but its supply is limited; we need to budget its use so we have some when it really counts.

Here are some thoughts on how to keep our goal in sight and to keep putting one foot in front of another so we can learn to build and flex our willpower muscle:

images-4Chunk it up. Oftentimes we let go of a goal not because we lack willpower but because we feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the goal. To overcome this we need to chunk (break apart) the goal into actionable parts each one in a sequence that leads to successful completion. The magic of this process is that we derive a sense of satisfaction and pride to propel us towards completion of the next steps. When we reach the end, we will feel a sense of strength and abundance rather than a feeling of exhaustion.

Unknown-1Pre-commit. Along with willpower we need strategies to help us stay on track. One of these is called pre-committing. This technique helps us to remove the temptations we know are likely to test us. For example, if we’re trying to loose 30 pounds, throw out all of the junk food in the house. Create a shopping list before going to the store next time and stick to it! Don’t allow advertising to lure you in to buying something not on your list.

Unknown-2Please yourself not others. It takes an enormous amount of energy to suppress our true and authentic self in order to please others. Doing so depletes our willpower faster than you can say GOAL! When we use this type of self-control in order to please others we are more easily depleted than people who hold true to themselves. When it comes people pleasers, they find themselves at a great disadvantage compared to those who are secure and comfortable with themselves.

imagesRecognize and change unproductive habits. Research confirms that good habits strengthen our willpower. Small habits build self-discipline and self-control.

“We can use decision-making to choose the habits we want to form, use willpower to get the habit started, then – and this is the best part – we can allow the extraordinary power of habit to take over.” – Gretchen Rubin

UnknownRemember the “why” behind your goal. Think beyond the short term. When we can be reminded of the purpose of our goal it can help give us the willpower to stick to new habits to achieve our goals. Weighing the cost of quitting over the work to get there can also help us to stay motivated.

Anticipate obstacles and cogs in the wheel. Doing this helps you to build in plans to manage around or over them. This step will also give us a plan when they arrive so they won’t drain as much of our willpower supply.

“When people have a willpower failure, it’s because they haven’t anticipated a situation that’s going to come along.” – Charles Duhigg

Unknown-1Do important things first. Most self-control mishaps happen at night. Because our willpower is limited, we need to do the most important things on our daily to do list in the morning. As the day progresses it only gets harder to face lack of willpower challenges.

images-3Use positive affirmations. Affirmations will help you to stop the negative self-talk. Why do we keep saying self-defeating or negative things to ourselves yet at the same time hoping that something would change? STOP! Tell yourself that you have the power and determination to stay the course. Visualize what your future will look like, feel like, sound and smell like.

“All that we are is a result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” – Buddha

UnknownHave an accountability partner. Take the solidarity out of reaching your goals by sharing them with the most important and supportive people in your life. These individuals will help to hold you accountable to reaching your goals by asking questions, removing barriers, and being supportive to your growth.

images-5Cut yourself some slack! You’re going to give into temptation every now and then. That doesn’t’ mean that you’re a defeatist…its just reality! Change is hard! What matters is what you do afterwards. If you’re feeling the urge to beat yourself up, don’t do it! Blaming yourself only reduces your willpower. Showing yourself some self-compassion actually increases your willpower.

Unknown-3Celebrate! Don’t wait until you’ve reached the end of your goal. Take time to celebrate the completion of each successful chunk. I’m not saying to go crazy but it is important to be proud of all the small accomplishments. Be your number one fan tell yourself…..You Rock!!

“The best way to think of willpower is not as a behavioral trait but as a muscle – one that can atrophy or grow stronger depending on how it is used or not.” – Jeffrey Kluger

3 thoughts on “Got Willpower?

  1. I have thought through your points on willpower from three perspectives. The first achieving an achievement goal, such as writing a book, doing a degree, or completing a work project. The second is a goal of overcoming an adversity, such as recovering from an injury, accommodating to a disability, emotionally recovery from a relationship breakdown, or pulling oneself out of a financial crisis. The third is your example of weight control. (Disclaimer: I am a nutritionist). I think your points work well for all three cases with a few minor exceptions:
    1) I think your point on the ‘why’ MUST come first. Willpower will not work in any situation unless the purpose behind the goal is established and life in the future envisioned. Generally for an achievement goal the vision and motivation is very high. For someone with a “problem” such as injury or financial debt it is really important a vision of recovery or at least manageability is formed right in the beginning. Likewise for weight control, one of the stumbling blocks for an overweight person is that they never see themselves as normal weight. That vision is so important.
    2) The “cut yourself some slack” is regard to a recovery issue could perhaps be thought of more as “accept there will be bad days”. The result is the same as your advice. However, sometimes during the steps towards injury recovery or a debt crisis, things can happen beyond the person’s control, yet emotional management of the bad days or events is still important.
    3) Finally, weight control differs from an achievement goal or even a recovery goal, as relapses send you backwards. When you are doing a degree, it you complete one subject then you have completed that step, you can celebrate and that small achievement can never be taken away from you. Your degree is twelve or sixteen such steps and you can gradually tick them off. With weight control reaching a “step” of a few pounds of weight loss does not give you that permanent achievement of staying at that level. The weight can slide backwards (or upwards) and that can be demoralizing. That is why ‘diets’ fail. The solution is a permanent ‘lifestyle program’ and include relapses into that.

    Great post and you have really made me think today. Thanks.


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