Many people believe they could improve their lives if only they had more of that mysterious thing called “willpower.” Heck, even in the beginning, Adam and Eve had issues in the Garden of Eden with that darn apple! In a perfect world, with more self control, we could all eat right, exercise regularly, avoid drugs and alcohol, shy away from dangerous liaisons, refrain from maxing out our credit cards, save for retirement, stop procrastinating, and achieve all sorts of attainable goals. Unfortunately, today we live in an imperfect world and we are constantly bombarded with those “bad apples” that continuously tempt us to “take a bite!”
Every day, from the minute we wake up to the moment we lay our heads on a pillow to go to sleep, we are making non-stop decisions and choices. Most of our decisions are part of our daily routines but, occasionally, we will hit a glitch and have to stop and really think about our choices and the outcomes they may produce.
For example, you know you should order a salad at the restaurant but you order a burger and fries instead. Or, you resist the urge to surf the web in order to get a household chore done. You patiently wait for that dress that you love to go on sale at the store. You struggle to pass on dessert when you are eyeing the chocolate cake on the menu. You bite your tongue when you really want to make a snide remark. Internal and external struggles, constantly taxing our brains, day in and day out. It can become so overwhelming!
What exactly is willpower and how does it affect our everyday lives? By definition, willpower is the trait of resolutely controlling your own behavior. It is essential in achieving, overcoming, and becoming. Many people think that willpower is “all-or-nothing” but that’s really not the case. It’s a game of balance, which normally involves sustainability. What are some things we can do to stay on track and be held accountable for our actions involving willpower?
1. Adopt a “slow and steady wins the race” attitude towards those areas in your life where you find yourself “weak at the knees.” This way, you’ll achieve much more success than consistently exposing yourself to the object of your weakness – sweets, carbs, smoking, gambling – only to finally give up or give in.
2. Keep a watchful eye on your fuel gauge and don’t overestimate your late-day resolve. We normally start our days with energy and focus. As the day wears on, our energy subsides and our focus deteriorates. Most people give in to urges, cheat on their diets, or succumb to temptations later in the day and evening. Just because you are laser-focused at noon doesn’t mean you’ll be the same at midnight.
3. Keep your stress levels in check in order to make smarter choices and better decisions. How much stress are you under? The more mental stress we face on a daily basis, the more energy and fuel our brain needs to compensate. That will eventually involve having less energy devoted to self-control when you need it the most.
4. Approach goals with baby steps. People normally fail at new activities because they become overwhelmed by the “big picture.” It’s great to have a goal in mind but success comes when you approach the goal with baby steps, overcoming and conquering small obstacles along the way. For example, losing 50 pounds may seem impossible, but instead, if you break it down to losing one pound a week, that goal will be more realistic, more reasonable, and much more attainable. The willpower and success to complete the goal will be higher and success will be much more likely to happen.
5. You versus you. We can be our own biggest cheerleader or our own worst enemy. Internally, our subconscious is always working behind the scenes. Many strong people, including myself, have given in to temptation or failed at a new activity or ongoing project. Why? Good question! It seems negative thoughts can sometimes seep into our level of consciousness. The more we engage in thoughts of failure, the more self doubt creeps in sabotaging progress and producing toxicity. When I find myself heading down that path, I physically stop, intentionally readjust my thinking, take a deep breath, and proceed with caution.
6. SLEEP! Research has shown that when you are not getting enough quality sleep, mental energy is zapped, the effects of burnout are high, irritability sets in, and your willpower is out the door along with your will to succeed or stay on track.
7. Most importantly, believe in yourself! If you don’t believe you can do it, then the bottom line is you won’t. Believing is half the battle. Internal feedback is constantly whispering to us: ”Yes you can! Great job!” or “You’re not good enough. No, you can’t.” It’s up to us to flip the ON switch for positive thoughts and believe in our ability to succeed. You need to believe that what you’re doing or what you’re trying to do is worthwhile regardless of the detours, setbacks, or doubts.
In closing, we all live on a seesaw, constantly trying to find balance. If you can maintain a realistic sense of willpower to help get you through each day, then hopefully you’ll be able to sustain that determination to succeed and avoid making bad choices that you’ll only regret later! Good luck!
By Helen Fritsch