Willpower For Dummies
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From eating well to getting good brain exercise to planning where you'll shop, the tips you'll find here can help you boost your willpower and achieve your goals!

Eat a breakfast of willpower champions

Start the day with a nutritious meal. Your brain has high energy demands, especially when it’s using willpower to achieve something challenging or to suppress an unwanted habit.

Eating a good breakfast is particularly important if you’re aiming to lose weight by lowering your calorie count. Keep yourself replenished during the day; if you’re hungry, you’re primed to seek high-calorie foods that have less fuel for your willpower. If you’re too strict with your diet, or choose sugary foods that just provide temporary respite from hunger, you end up with more calories and less willpower.

Train your brain

Keeping your brain sharp is essential for maximising your willpower.

Give your brain a silent workout. For example, try to recall every city you’ve visited and the names of the hotels you stayed in. You can extend this to recalling the name of each country’s political leader or head of state. Challenge yourself to generate as many words as you can beginning with a particular letter such as F, A or S, in a minute. Or you can think of names of animals, plants, modes of transport, musical instruments.

De-clutter your personal space

Untidy or cluttered worktops, desktops or rooms can be distracting and make things difficult to find – both of which can deplete your willpower. Every distraction means that you have to deploy willpower to refocus. Not finding things can also cause frustration or distraction, which is another tax on your precious willpower.

Know what you’re drinking

When shopping for alcoholic beverages in the supermarket or an off licence, always check the percentage of alcohol in the product, known as the alcohol by volume (ABV) index. At first glance, the difference between a beer that’s five per cent ABV and one that’s four per cent ABV seems minimal. Surely, a one per cent difference doesn’t matter. But it does! The higher-rated product is actually 25 per cent higher in alcohol!

Manage your anger

Make an effort to manage your anger or frustration before trying to resolve any conflicts at home or at work. If you’re feeling angry towards somebody you know, you’re likely to say the wrong thing, because your willpower is compromised. Moreover, anger is often expressed towards those entirely blameless, such as friends and family or other drivers who innocently meander too close to your vehicle!

Plan your shopping

Using a shopping list is an excellent way to conserve willpower and control impulsive shopping. From the willpower perspective, the shopping list spreads the workload. The decisions about what to buy are made in advance, perhaps when you’re sitting in your kitchen enjoying a cup of coffee. These decisions require willpower, but you use your cool reflective brain system to do what it’s best at: making rational decisions, unhindered by the triggers drawing you to items you want rather than need.

Prioritise your resolutions

Make one New Year’s resolution, or commit to one specified goal at any time of the year, and stick to it! Work out your priorities and choose one important goal. With willpower, success fosters success, so achieving one objective strengthens your willpower muscle. Striving for more than one goal dilutes your willpower and compromises success on all fronts.

Be assertive rather than submissive or confrontational

Practise being assertive: biting your lip and suppressing your feelings repeatedly exhausts your supply of willpower. A strong link exists between submissiveness, or not sticking up for yourself, and subsequent experience of and expressions of anger.

However, being assertive doesn’t mean you should go on a mission of zero tolerance of minor slights or acts of thoughtlessness by others! Try to balance assertiveness with empathy and understanding and avoid the double-standards trap, whose technical name is attributional bias, in which you assign causality or blame in a self-serving manner.

Tackle your problems stepwise

Break complex problems into smaller and more manageable steps. Instead of, say, setting a goal of branching out into a new career, decide to update your CV and send it to a recruitment agency. Or identify a core skill or qualification that could mobilise your career.

Willpower works when it’s directed at one goal at a time. Spreading your willpower too thinly is likely to lead to not quite making it on a number of fronts rather than succeeding on one. Willpower works better sequentially rather than in parallel.

Be optimistic but realistic

Don’t assume that things will be more difficult than they prove to be, or that the difficulties that arise will prove to be insurmountable. Practise realistic optimism, which forecasts the best possible realistic outcome given the circumstances.

A pessimistic or negative outlook rapidly deflates willpower. It simply makes willpower irrelevant, because effort seems pointless in pursuit of a negative outcome.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Frank Ryan is a clinical psychologist and cognitive therapist, specialising in cognition and impulse control. He is also the author of Cognitive Therapy For Addiction, published by Wiley.

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