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Can You Boost Your Willpower?

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on September 09, 2021

Willpower is essential to achieving a healthy lifestyle, whether it’s through maintaining a regular exercise program, avoiding unhealthy habits such as smoking or excessive drinking, or making sure you’re eating low-fat, nutritious meals. ‌

In an annual survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, lack of willpower was referred to as the biggest reason why participants were unable to make positive changes in their lives. 

This begs the question – can you boost your willpower? 

Defining Willpower

‌There are many different words we can use in place of willpower that are similar and can be used to mean the same thing, such as determination, drive, discipline, or self-control. But psychological scientists have a more specific definition of willpower. Most importantly, when you have willpower:

  • ‌You can hold off on short-term temptations if it means you will get better results in the long-term.
  • ‌You can easily manage thoughts, feelings, and impulses so they don’t control you and guide your direction.
  • ‌You are able to think things through in a cool, rational manner instead of getting emotionally worked up.  

Some people do find it difficult to maintain willpower due to an increased sensitivity to emotional triggers. However, willpower is like a muscle in your body. Using it regularly can help you build it up and strengthen it.

How to Boost Your Willpower

‌Making small and relevant changes to your lifestyle can help greatly towards improving and maintaining your willpower. ‌

Willpower has been linked to the amount of energy available in the brain, and this energy is fueled by the foods we eat. Plan and space out your meals so you’re eating foods that release energy slowly, such as complex carbohydrates, as part of a balanced diet. ‌

Not getting enough sleep can also cause difficulties with maintaining willpower. Aim to get at least 8 hours of quality sleep, or the duration of sleep that works best for you, every night.  ‌

Aside from making healthier lifestyle changes, there are several other ways you can boost your willpower:

  • Go slow with goal setting and set realistic goals. Setting one or a few achievable goals is a smarter approach if you’re new to goal setting. If you set too many lofty goals, you might spread yourself too thin, lose any motivation you had to start with, and get turned off by goal setting altogether. Use the SMART strategy when setting your goals. Having Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Trackable goals is the way to go to finish strong and maintain your willpower till the very end.
  • Build the willpower habit. Change doesn’t happen overnight. If you generally find willpower a challenge, work with one small goal at a time. For example, you can start with drinking at least 2 liters of water daily or walking up the stairs instead of taking the lift. Once you’ve built momentum with one habit, you can add more goals.
  • Have your very own cheerleading squad. If you generally find willpower challenging, enlist the support of family, friends, and acquaintances. Having a support network is vital for encouragement during slumps and to keep up all the good work you’ve done in a sustainable way. Talk to your people about your goals and offer suggestions on how you think they can best help you. 
  • Manage your environment. It’s hard to sustain your willpower if your environment doesn’t support it. If you’re trying to avoid unhealthy snacking, the last thing you need is to have family members chomp on them around you all the time. If you’re thinking of quitting drinking, you don’t want to meet up with friends in bars.‌ Managing your environment so that you’re not setting yourself up for failure is a great step to take to help you boost your willpower and maintain it.  
  • Recognize the need for professional support. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you’re just not able to hit your stride. If you’ve done everything you can do to maintain willpower and nothing seems to work, it may be time to call in the experts. Look for professional support in the form of psychologists or coaches who can work with you one-on-one to help you set goals and maintain them. Professionals can help you work through your challenges as and when they come up so you have consistent support throughout the process.

In Summary

‌Willpower is key to achieving many a positive goal in life. Set SMART targets for yourself, develop a support network, and manage your environment so you have a firm foundation to start with for developing your willpower. Remember to seek professional help if you feel the need for extra support.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Psychological Association: "What you need to know about willpower: The psychological science of self-control."

British Heart Foundation: "Increase your willpower and self-control."

Mayo Clinic Health System. "Setting SMART goals for success."

Prevent Cancer: "Boosting Your Willpower."

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