Willpower: it’s one of those things some people are born with, like thick hair or a trust fund. Right?
Actually, the research suggests otherwise: Roy Baumeister, a professor of social psychology at Florida State University, says you can strengthen your willpower with practice.
“The more you flex it, the stronger it gets,” he says. Try our plan.
1. Try an overture
Working out to music is undeniably motivating. But a UK study found that playing ready-to-sweat music before a workout – when you’re struggling with that “C’mon, skip the gym” inner voice – makes you more likely to follow through.
2. Lose the lame clichés
Athletes who attain goals are often said to “hit their peak” or “reach new heights”. But endlessly imagining yourself moving to the top can actually kill motivation, suggests research in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.
3. Sleep for strength
Tired and hungry is no way to get through the day. In a Northern Illinois University study, people with poor sleep habits ran out of self-control faster than deep sleepers did. Solution: hit the hay around the same time each night, avoid napping in the late afternoon, cut out caffeine after 2pm, and use your bed for two things only – sleep and sex.
4. Play a game
People who play strategy video games tend to do more things that are good for them in the long run, according to a study in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. That could be because these games require you to analyse your actions and their consequences and visualise future possibilities.
5. Don’t skip meals
Maintaining self-control is tougher when you have low blood sugar, suggests research from the University of South Dakota. Higher blood sugar levels signal your body to conserve its resources, of which willpower may be one. To keep your blood sugar levels steady, eat a snack of lean protein (biltong!) or complex carbs, such as vegetables or dried fruit.
6. Clean your mess
A chaotic, disorganised environment can raise stress, weakening willpower. So clean up! In a Cornell study, stressed-out women in a messy kitchen scarfed nearly twice as many cookies as those in a tidy one, reaching for sweets instead of healthier snacks.
7. Take a different route home
In a Health Psychology study, overweight or obese people were more likely to eat high-kilojoule snacks if they were near fast-food joints than if they weren’t. If they were near supermarkets, they were more than twice as likely to eat low-kilojoule snacks.
8. Audit what you eat
Keeping an electronic food diary can boost your resolve, and the most diligent reap the biggest rewards. In one study, dietitians suggested myfitnesspal (free, ios and android) more often than other apps.
10. Laugh it off
Cracking up can make you more persistent, according to Australian research. People who watched a comedy clip before attempting a tricky task kept at it longer than people who first watched a nature video. The researchers believe that amusement makes you want to push harder.
11. Eat healthy before you shop
People in a Cornell study who ate an apple slice before grocery shopping bought 13% more fruits and vegetables than those who ate a cookie before grabbing a cart. “Eating the apple put shoppers into a health-focused mindset,” says study author Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab.
12. Get sweaty
A French review found that regular exercise may help bolster discipline. And a study in Psychology of Sport and Exercise suggests that exercise is especially helpful in people prone to low self-control.
13. Tell yourself you want it
People who feel the desire to achieve their goals – as opposed to feeling an obligation to succeed – do better, Canadian research suggests. When you feel compelled to pursue goals, you’re more likely to be tempted by obstacles along the way, like that chocolate cake when you’re trying to cut back on sugar.
14. List your goals
Write down some fitness benchmarks for the short and long term, says PT Michael Wood, of Michael Wood Fitness. Keep the objectives specific and quantifiable. “In order to manage something, you need to measure it,” he says. Use an app like Nudge to track your progress.
15. Think really, really big…
When people in a Swiss study thought of willpower as an abundant resource, their self-control improved. Just knowing that willpower is shaped by your beliefs can help you gauge how depleted it is, says study author Katharina Bernecker.
16. But don’t strut
Overconfidence can undermine willpower, according to University of Cincinnati research. To stay on track, study author Anthony Salernore commends taking pride in who you are, as opposed to what you’ve accomplished. “Rather than saying to yourself, ‘I am proud that I am already halfway done with my goal,’ say, ‘I am proud of myself for being a disciplined person,’” Salerno advises.
17. Turn up the AC
People in a psychological research study who held a cold object did better on a self-control test than those with a warm one. Cold temps may be linked to alertness.
18. Set reasonable constraints
Try “precommitment” to boost your self-control. In a study from Arizona State and Florida State, researchers promised participants they’d receive 100 M&Ms – but first they had to write down how many they wouldn’t eat. This commitment helped them eat fewer sweets.
19. Plan ahead
Positive thinking isn’t enough says NYU psychologist Gabriele Oettingen. Think about what you want, identify obstacles and plan work-arounds. Say you’re headed out of town. Pack resistance bands so you can work out at the hotel.
20. Turn off your mind
Swiss researchers found that people who meditated showed stronger self-control than those who didn’t meditate. Meditating may help you focus on goals and tune out temptation. Breathe mindfully for 10 minutes a day.
This article was originally published on www.mh.co.za
Image credits: iStock