There are some great examples of willpower with people overcoming the most immense of obstacles, so I thought I would take a closer look at Willpower – 6 ways to be better. Look no further than the Paralympics or the Invictus Games. I was inspired by the story the other day about Jamie Andrew a quadruple amputee who lost his hands and feet in a climbing accident but went on to run in the London Marathon and then climb Kilimanjaro.

However for the rest of us…not so good.

The gyms in January are packed with the well intentioned to be empty in February when the first flush of willpower has evaporated. Similarly for diet classes, language courses, art classes, piano lessons and other goals we set ourselves never to be completed.

Why are we so poor at willpower? There are a myriad of reasons so I’m suggesting six ways to be better.

6 ways to be better at willpower

  1. Understand willpower. It is ‘the ability to overcome instant gratification for long term goals’. We are in constant conflict with two parts of our brains: our higher brain, the prefrontal cortex, which makes rational decisions about what’s best for us and the lower brain with its pleasure principle of ‘I want it now’. As we reach for that biscuit as if controlled by an automatic alien force stop, breathe and remember. A new wristband is on the market which provides a shock if we are overdrawn at the bank, open a packet of cigarettes when we have vowed to stop smoking, or sworn when we have foresworn swearing. Every little helps!
  1. Visualise success. Humans have been given a wonderful capacity to envision and imagine and we so often use this ability to anticipate disaster. Use it for good.Visualise not only reaching your goal but also the steps to that goal along the way. Recent research shows if we just visualise the end state so powerful is that process then we feel we have achieved our goal already and reach for another biscuit.
  1. Stress interferes with willpower. The more relaxed we are the more we will achieve our willpower goals. So get relaxing. Join a mindfulness or meditation class, or download our relaxation instructions on our website and practice relaxation. You need to do it at least once per day-three times is better- but it will help immediately and increase your longevity to take on more willpower challenges!
  1. Willpower improves with success. Psychologists thought that willpower was a bit like a muscle which could be trained but could also become depleted with overuse. That concept has now been questioned and willpower for me is more like a mindset which can be improved with practice but is limitless as to what can be achieved. Practice resisting temptation today. Start small with resisting a piece of chocolate then resisting going home instead of going to the gym. Get the willpower habit.
  1. Streamline your life. If you want to achieve a willpower challenge, depending on how big it is, you may have to streamline other bits of your life so that you can focus. Good examples are President Obama who has a wardrobe full of exactly the same suits so no decisions have to be made each morning what to wear. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook has the same reasoning wearing only grey T-shirts. One decision less in a packed schedule.
  1. If you believe you have it you do. Research in 2010 which looked at groups of people asked to resist temptation discovered the major differentiator was belief in their own willpower. 

Relaxation helps

You may have to deal with the specific issues that have led to your stress but if you are relaxed you can make better decisions about them, solve problems more swiftly and simply feel more healthy and confident. Check out our relaxation section

Ros Taylor is currently writing a book about Willpower to be published by Wiley in early 2017. She would be interested to hear about your willpower successes and failures.