How To Build Strength. Everybody who ever wanted to start something new or change something in their lives like starting to exercise, eating better, studying, or living on a budget knows that it takes a lot of self-control to get yourself to do something new, abandoning bad habits and adopting new ones.
People naturally vary in the amount of self-control they have, one person will find it easy to stop eating sweets and switching to fruits and another person will find it very difficult to do the same thing.
Research shows that everyone’s self-control has limits. It is like muscle strength: the more we use it, the weaker it gets so there’s less power left over for other things unless we recuperate with rest. If you don’t rest the muscle you can run out of strength entirely.
The thing is we use our willpower all day. Many things we wouldn’t think of as requiring willpower also rely on willpower and exhaust its strength. Things like choosing between ten brands of dishwashing tablets at the grocery store, filling out a boring tax form, waiting in traffic, refraining from fighting with your spouse or trying to impress your boss.
Anytime you try to fight distractions and impulses, make yourself do something difficult or evaluate competing goals you use a little more of your willpower strength.
This may also explain why it is very hard to go for a run or go to the gym after a long day of work. Our willpower reserve might be almost depleted making it much easier to listen to the many excuses we make up not to put on our running shoes or pick up our gym bag and find ourselves comfortably on the couch watching a movie promising ourselves to be better tomorrow.
Luckily there are things you can do to overcome your willpower fatigue and strengthen your self-control. Because just like a muscle, willpower can also be trained and strengthened over the long run through exercise.
Researches have put this theory to the test and found that people who consciously engage in a willpower task daily, gradually get better at the task itself and also seem to get better at good habits in other parts of their lives.
Many studies have repeatedly shown that people get better at regulating their impulses and distracting themselves from temptations. They exercise more, eat better, focus better at work, cut down on impulsive spending, smoke less and keep their homes cleaner.
The good news is that this willpower task doesn’t have to be an enormous one. You don’t have to force yourself to go to the gym or stick to a strict and challenging diet. A small daily task you are not already doing is enough.
Exercises for better self-control
Notice when your willpower is depleted
The muscle theory states that willpower gets weaker throughout the day. Pay attention for a week when you are most likely to give in and have the least willpower. When do you have the most self-control?
What time of the day do you feel best and most motivated? You can use this information to plan and schedule tasks or goals you want to achieve and use it to foresee when you will be most vulnerable to temptations and most likely to succeed at willpower challenges.
4 small willpower exercises
Commit to doing something every day you are not already doing just for practicing without making excuses:
- Using your non dominant hand for a certain task like brushing your teeth, for one week
- Being aware of your posture for two weeks and remind yourself constantly to sit and stand up straight
- Set and meet self-imposed deadlines like opening and processing mail at a predetermined time daily, cleaning the coffee machine or your closet
- Commit to not swearing or using slang for a week
Connect your small willpower exercises to your main goals
When your main goal is to get fitter and engage in daily exercise choose a small willpower exercise that fits this goal. Park at the far end of the parking lot to walk more or take the stairs instead of the elevator.
When you want to eat better eat a piece of fruit with every meal, if you want to control your spending habits track your expenses for a month. If you want to spend less time watching tv, keep track of how many hours you spend watching each day and so on.
Just find a small task to do every day that doesn’t take much effort to train your self-control and notice your willpower gradually get stronger and less easily depleted.
Pick one now and get started.