Best ways to increase willpower that you HAVEN’T heard yet

If you’re like me, there is usually one thing – that one vice – that despite your best efforts, consistently crushes your willpower.


Picture by Rego Korosi

For me, it’s snarfing down handfuls of sugary sweetness at the end of a long day. It drives me crazy. I’m a strong person. I have good willpower and good habits. Most days, I achieve the goals I set for myself. I follow most of the advice I’ve read about willpower online. So what the heck?

That’s when I read Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Dr. Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney. In it, I learned that essentially, willpower and self control require energy and at the end of a long day, and I don’t have enough left to fight off the craving. I also learned that my willpower muscle needs some wicked reps to buff it up.

Here are the things I’ve learned that you won’t find in other online articles.

Don’t eat sugar

Many of the online articles I’ve read suggest that you should eat some glucose to make more energy available for self control and thus create more willpower. This is because the research outlined in Willpower found that people who ate sugar and then had to try to solve impossible-to-solve puzzles stuck with it longer than those who didn’t. However, Baumeister and Tierney go on to share that while sugar provides a short-term high, it is inevitably followed by a crash. Instead, they recommend getting your glucose the slow, steady, and healthy way throughout the day with grains, fruits, and vegetables. May I suggest starting your day with hot, steamy, creamy, wholesome oatmeal?

Hide inside a hyperbaric chamber when you have PMS

I want to file this one under, “why hasn’t anyone told me this before? Women have less self control during the pre-menstrual phase of our periods. It can last anywhere from one to three weeks before menstruation, depending on your cycle. According to the book, more glucose in our system is directed to the ovaries than made available for impulse control. So essentially, avoid anything that might involve a temptation. Willpower also outlined that women have been known to make crazy out-of-character choices during this time of ripening. So if you happen to find yourself opting for ultra violet at the hairdresser when you’re usually a blend of honey nougat and chestnut, ask yourself, “Am I PMSing right now?” If so, back away from the purple. Quickly.

Don’t track how well you’re doing

Studies have found that those who track their progress feel really great when they look back and see what they’ve accomplished. Terrific, right? However, those who keep their eyes on the future – how much further they have to go – perform better overall and keep up the necessary habits to achieve their goals. So if you want to feel good, then by all means, keep track of your progress, review it regularly, and congratulate yourself on how far you’ve come. But if you want the rush that comes from achieving your goal, keep looking forward.

A little OCD is a good thing

For the past few months, I made a decision to leave the bathroom better than I found it when I went in. That means that I can no longer leave a bathroom, anyone’s bathroom, without wiping the faucet, handles, sink, and counter so that they gleam. It turns out, according to the book, that this small, seemingly randomly chosen habit done consistently will help me build willpower. Neat-o. Choose your own random habit and make it one you obsess over.

Commit to getting better at something else

In another study cited by the book’s authors, people signed up for a fitness program, a study program, or a money management program and made plans to improve their performance in their chosen area. Researchers found that the discipline they developed in the one program spread to other areas of their life. The people with the money management program started to buy healthier foods and therefore became healthier. So make a commitment to improving one aspect of your life and you’ll automatically start to improve other areas.

Look yourself in the mirror

The simple act of having a mirror in a room can make you work harder, stay on task longer, keep from eating cookies, or other things that help support willpower. Pretty neat, eh?

Get rid of the clutter

The book says that those working in a clean space spend more time completing tasks than those who work in a messy space. Keep your spaces neat and clean. Everywhere. I dread this one. I am a piler, not a filer. If you’re like me, you may choose to simply move your piles out of your peripheral vision while you’re working on something that requires willpower.


Bonus info

Here are 10 other tips that I’ve found online to help you build willpower, compiled for your ease:

  1. Help your future self out. For example, if you need to wash the dishes, organize them all by doing part of the task now (sleep in your running clothes and put your shoes by the door so you go for a run the next morning)
  2. Make a plan to get there through little steps
  3. Meditate
  4. Sleep 6.5–7.5 hours every night
  5. Postpone a sweet until later, much later in the day or the next day or the next
  6. Instead of going all out, do one small part of your goal for 30 days and then ramp it up a tiny bit for another 30 days. Repeat until you get to your goal or develop the desired habit.
  7. Anticipate and plan for times of low self control
  8. Use distractions to keep from doing something you don’t want to do
  9. Eliminate distractions rather than trying to ignore them. Don’t want to each chocolate? Get it out of the house. (My usual method involves eating it all, usually in big gulps and all at once. It’s much better to donate it to a friend in need instead.)
  10. Create more good habits overall. Over time that overall self-discipline makes it easier to resist other things.

Bonus links

Here are some more links if you want to read more on the subject:

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