Your Willpower Is Limited – Use It Wisely

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How do you usually start your day during the week?

You are happily lying in your bed, covered by a warm blanket, your head resting on a new fluffy cushion, when suddenly your alarm clock rings. First, you act as if you hadn’t heard it, but since it continues to ring, you pull out your hand and hit the snooze button. And then you go back to lying in bed trying to sleep. After 10 minutes the alarm rings again, you start mumbling to yourself and repeat what you did 10 minutes before.

Then the alarm clock rings a third time. This time you curse loudly and start forcing yourself to get up. You stumble out of bed, find the bathroom and go into your morning routine.

After your morning routine is over, and you are all showered and dressed, you mentally start preparing yourself for the rest of the day. You sit yourself down on the couch, stare at the clock on your wall and count down the seconds. Maybe it’s time to leave the house now.

You take a few steps out the door, then quicken up the pace and start walking swiftly towards the bus stop. Once there, you wait for the bus, but realize that it won’t come on time. Normally, it was supposed to have shown up 5 minutes ago, but instead there is a lot of traffic and the bus comes late. You begin to be impatient, seeing that you might be late for work.

You arrive at work, but the elevator doesn’t work, so you will have to take the stairs again. Once you get to your office, you turn on the computer. It boots up slowly, dragging on your patience. Once it is booted up, you click on the icon for your corporate email. It starts opening up and then it suddenly crashes!

All these things have an effect on your willpower and can impact how you perform during the day. For you see, willpower is a finite resource.

Things that play with your patience are heavy users of willpower, since they test your perseverance. That’s why if they succeed in getting you mad, then this has a heavy impact on how productive you are in other activities as well.

If you have to use your willpower for one activity, your total amount of willpower will drain and you will have less willpower available for the next activity.

Luckily, willpower is something that you can train. With regular training, you can increase your total willpower capacity.

Here are some guidelines to help you strengthen your willpower:

1) Train your willpower

There is a little exercise you can do in order to train your willpower. Pick one thing you want to improve on and which requires you to be mindful and practice doing it for a week.

One example could be having a good posture. Most of us slouch during the day due to the nature of our lives, which leads to horrible postures. Try being mindful of keeping a good posture. Periodically remind yourself to straighten up, put some reminders around, maybe have an alarm on the computer that will periodically remind you to straigthen up, or put a sign on the wall saying: “Straighten up your posture”. You could also buy one of those posture balls and sit on that, instead of a chair.

Work on this for a week. Be mindful of keeping a good posture everyday. You will find that after a while this will become a bit more automatic. The good news is that having increased your willpower in one area, will spillover to other areas as well. Automatically you will have increased willpower available for other things.

2) Eat well and don’t forget your carbohydrates

Your brain requires glucose to function and that impacts your willpower. When your body is low on glucose, it is more prone to give into cravings. At that point your willpower is at a very low level, so in order to immediately increase it, you should eat some food with carbs.

3) Be mindful of what you can control and what you can’t and set priorities accordingly

Oftentimes we get mad over things that we cannot control and this drains our willpower. For example if you are stuck in traffic, you need to realize that this is out of your control and there is no reason to be agitated about it.

A good thing to do is think of a realistic worst case scenario for that situation. What is the worst thing that can happen if you get stuck in traffic? You will probably get to work late, maybe get some nasty stares and maybe even nasty comments from coworkers, but that’s about it. So don’t sweat it, and instead preserve your willpower for things that you can control.

Once you divide up things between what you can control and what you can’t, you will have a list telling you what your priorities are and where you should concentrate your willpower. Being born short is something you can’t control, but your weight and your muscles are things that you can work on and improve. So if you feel small, make gaining weight and lean muscle your priority.

4) Breathe

Whenever you are feeling a craving, getting a bit agitated, or trying to resist temptation, use a little calming down technique that can work wonders for you: slow breathing. Breathe in and out slowly for a minute or two. You will find out that this calms you down and makes you act more rationally and not on impulses.

You can even set aside 5 to 10 minutes a day to practice your slow breathing, maybe even start up a regular habit of mediation.

5) Sleep

Having a good night’s sleep is very important. It replenishes your willpower, makes you more relaxed and less agitated.

6) Exercise

Exercise is beneficial not only for your body, but can act as one of the most powerful ways of developing your willpower.

7) Create routines and habits

In order to give your willpower a rest, you should concentrate on creating routines and then transforming them into habits. Once a habit is formed, it takes very little to maintain it, freeing up your willpower to be used elsewhere.

8) Have a positive “grow” mindset

While a lot of scientific research points to the effect of physical willpower depletion, other scientific research demonstrates that your mind set can also play a big role in self-control. If you have a “grow” mindset and view willpower as plentiful, you will exhibit greater willpower and self-control than people who view these things as easily depleted. This means your perception of your own willpower also plays a big role in how much willpower and self-control you actually exhibit.

9) No excuses

Get out of the habit of blaming others for your failures. Learn to be in control of your life.

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