Willpower and self-control are crucial ingredients for success. So, how can you develop each one to change your behavior and thought process? Keep reading to learn how to develop self-control and willpower to change your behavior.
How To Develop Willpower
The spiritual leader and activist, Mahatma Gandhi, said, “Strength doesn't come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will (power).” Yet, what exactly is willpower?
Basically, willpower is your ability to turn down and curb inner conflicts, such as short-term temptations, to meet long-term goals. Simply put, willpower is “the muscle of the mind.”
Say you want to supersize your takeout order or smoke a cigarette. But, deep down, you know you shouldn't.
Or it could just as easily be the reverse. Maybe there's something you know you should do, but keep procrastinating to avoid doing it, like going to the gym or filing your taxes.
When you reach this crossroads, that's when your willpower kicks in. This instantaneous reaction stems from the prefrontal cortex. (PFC), which is the front section of the brain responsible for regulating our behavior and decision-making abilities.
So, the first thing you need to develop your willpower is to keep your prefrontal cortex in good shape by:
- Getting quality sleep each night
- Eating a nutritious, well-balanced diet
- Exercising 3-5 times a week
- Managing stress
Can We Run Out of Willpower?
Interesting enough, experts say that we have a finite stockpile of willpower. You start your day with only so much and the more you use it, the faster you run out.
Take for example trying to control your temper on your way to work, then on your way back home from work. You also use up your willpower when you try to ignore distractions, help your kids with their homework, and negotiate a compromise with your partner.
Just like our actual muscles, our willpower gets worn out from all that repetitive use.
How to Develop Your Willpower
- Set clear intention of what you want to achieve
- Practice self-awareness by paying attention to thoughts, feelings and actions
- Learn breathing techniques
- Practice daily affirmations
- Meditate each day
- Focus on what's important now by postponing what you shouldn't do for later
- Limit your intake of addictive substances, like alcohol and nicotine
What is Self-Control?
Self-control is defined as the “restraint exercised over one's impulses, emotions, or desires” and works side-by-side will willpower. When you practice self-control, you direct your willpower toward the outcome you want.
This means that at times, you'll have to not do something, like when you want to eat healthy and pass on the supersize meal. It also means that there will be times when you have to put in a conscious effort to do something, like building good habits or getting started on those taxes.
And, as with willpower, self-control is also finite. In other words, each time you use self-control, your power to make sound decisions gradually diminishes until you start again the following morning.
This is what experts refer to as ‘ego depletion‘ and it happens because you spend most of your waking hours trying your best to focus on making decisions and exerting your willpower.
So, it's no surprise that by the end of the day, you feel depleted and exhaused, and probably find it difficult to think coherently, let alone be able to make choices you won't regret in the morning.
How To Develop Self-Control
Luckily, there are ways to improve your levels on self-control and reduce the impact of ego depletion. Many of them rely on the same techniques used to boost your willpower, like getting good sleep and managing stress, while others are slightly different.
Take a look.
- Recognize the stories you tell yourself
- Practice self-compassion and engage in positive self-talk
- Make a choice about how you respond
- Become aware of your wants and needs to direct energy toward self-improvement
- Manage your time and energy more efficiently.
- Create short and long-term goals to stay motivated
- Minimize temptation by avoiding situations that trigger unhealthy behaviors.
It is true there are some people that are far more self-disciplined than others. Some have remarkable self-control and willpower not because they were born with more, but because they have practiced and learned how to use it over and over again.
“It's not that some people have self-control and willpower and some don't. It's that some people are ready to change and others are not.” James Gordon
Acquiring a self-control and willpower mindset is a lifelong journey – it's not a leap. Your thoughts aren't facts and when you change your thinking from negative to positive, a whole new world of possibilities opens up for you.
Remember, developing self-control and willpower takes time and effort, but the benefits to your life can be significant.