Blog Short #15: How to Increase Your Willpower!

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

There’s a great little book called Eat That Frog. It’s written by Brian Tracy, and has sold 1.5 million copies! I bring this up because today’s blog short is about willpower and how to best take advantage of it, and this book ties in.

The phrase “eat that frog” refers to doing your most important tasks first thing in the morning so they don’t get lost in the day and you never get to them. Brian words it this way:

Your “frog” is your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it. It is also the one task that can have the greatest positive impact on your life and results at the moment.

It’s easy to start the day doing things that are maintenance oriented like checking email, setting up appointments, or planning and making lists. These are all important, but if your goal is to finish school, or become a writer, or teach a class, then your frog is not going to be answering emails, making plans or setting up your calendar.

Your frog is going to be studying for the test, writing a blog, or creating a lesson plan for your class. Your frogs are the tasks that take the most brain power, the most engagement, and the most energy. They’re also the tasks that lead you to accomplish your most important goals.

It follows then that your frogs require the greatest willpower, because we naturally resist them. That means you should time your “frogs” to coincide with when your willpower is strongest.

Based on research about willpower, here’s some things that have been found to be true that will help you get this timing right. I’ll give you some resources at the end.

  • Will power is a mind-body construct meaning that it involves both mental prowess and physical energy.
  • Will power is a limited resource. Trying to write a paper, maintain a fitness routine, stop smoking, or keeping your temper in check all pull from the same source of strength. So when you use your willpower again and again, it gets depleted and you can lose some of your control. This aligns with the finding by neuroscientists “that with each use of your willpower, the self-control system of the brain becomes less active,” (McGonigal, p. 60).
  • A second important finding is that your blood sugar drops with each use of willpower. In other words, using your willpower and maintaining self-control drains your body of energy, and conversely, the lowering of energy weakens your willpower.
  • Your brain exaggerates the depletion of your willpower before you’re actually running out, meaning that you can push yourself further than it may seem that you can if you have strong commitment to doing something. However, it’s important to know when you’re pushing too far.
  • Self-control is highest in the morning and steadily deteriorates as the day goes on.

Five Things You Can Do

So with these facts in mind, here’s some things you can do to make the best use of your willpower as well as to preserve and enhance it.

  1. Do your most important tasks first thing in the morning. One caveat is that there are some people who are actually better later in the day and if you’re one of those, you know when that time period is and you should take advantage of it.
  2. Watch your diet. When you’re stressed and feeling depleted, it’s tempting to go for the high carb processed foods that give you a jolt of sugar and usually a lot of fat. Eat food that will sustain your energy over time. Stick with nuts, beans, veggies, whole fruits, lean protein, whole grains and water. These foods keep your blood sugar steady. Your brain runs on glucose, so a low carb diet may leave you feeling tired. Whole fruits are a good source of glucose, and complex carbs in general help maintain blood sugar.
  3. Get enough sleep. Sleep-deprived people are more likely to engage in impulsive behaviors, be more moody, and have less brain power available to maintain self-control.
  4. Maintain a regular exercise habit. It doesn’t have to be long or difficult, just regular. Exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, boosts memory and thinking skills. Walking works!
  5. The greatest help comes from regular meditation. Start with 10 minutes a day and do it every day. People who meditate regularly have more gray matter in their brains. Gray matter helps the processing of information in the brain. Meditation also creates emotional space, makes you less reactive, boosts energy, and keeps you calm. All these things directly impact willpower.

A Word About Stress

Stress has a direct negative impact on willpower.

The more stressed you are, and especially chronically stressed, the more depleted you are both mentally and physically.

We know this already, right?

And because stress wears you down, it directly effects willpower by lessening it and opening you up to more impulsive behaviors in an attempt to get relief.

All the above suggestions work on stress as well as on willpower, so if you work on maintaining willpower, you’ll also alleviate some of your stress and vice versa.

For stress in particular, meditation is the most important of the five things I’ve listed. If you meditate daily, you’ll find yourself working on some of the other habits automatically such as cleaning up your diet, or beginning a walking routine, and sleeping better.

I would suggest doing two things right away:

  1. Eat that frog! Do your hardest and most important tasks first thing in the morning. Save your planning and maintenance tasks for later in the day because these don’t require as much brain power.
  2. Start a regular meditation habit. Just 10 minutes a day every day at the same time. I’ve meditated regularly for 25+ years every morning and nothing has had a more positive impact than that has. It makes everything else fall into place and immunizes you somewhat to high stress.

That’s it for this week! See you next Monday.

All my best,

Barbara

PS: Two books you may enjoy reading about willpower are The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal, and Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney.

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