Most people think of willpower as a mysterious force that “lazy” people just don’t have enough of. In reality, willpower is more like a muscle – it can only take you so far. If your willpower is not trained, it can’t take on a heavy load. In fact, studies have shown that the brain has limited power to make decisions, and that minor decisions add up throughout the day, depleting our reserves.
With your willpower depleted, you may find yourself stress-eating more frequently, or choosing a nap over a trip to the gym. The best way to change your habits, whether it’s waking up earlier or choosing a banana over a piece of pound cake, is to work out your willpower incrementally. Here are 4 ways to get started.
Call in positive reinforcements: Routine will win out over willpower 99% of the time. So how do you build a routine? 4 weeks of consistently following through on an action will lead to that action becoming a part of your everyday life. Eventually, these chores become like treats – you’ll feel weird when you go against the routine you have set up for working out and eating right.
Write down everything: Self-awareness is key to changing a habit, and sometimes we have to go outside ourselves for self-awareness. When you write down your actions in what you eat and how and when you exercise, you can examine your actions objectively and make changes in the future. Also, take note of bad habits like sleep deprivation that can degrade your self-awareness by increasing impulsiveness, and limit them.
Set realistic goals: Setting an unrealistic goal for yourself is a surefire way to fail. Your hopes and your expectations may not always line up. You can hope to lose 20 lbs by your boss’ party, but if that party is a month away, you’re most likely setting yourself up for failure. Alternatively, set both short-term and long-term goals. A gradual building of good habits may even be more effective than a sudden change.
Relax: Every decision in your day eats away at your willpower. So is it really worth it to stress over the small stuff? Stress depletes your willpower reserves and leads to poor decision making. If decision making is a part of your daily work, take the stress out of smaller decisions in your life by scheduling out your healthy choices. Plan out your meals in advance, and schedule workouts with a friend or partner. When the decisions are already made for you, you won’t have to deplete your brain power to choose whether to do them or not.