Improving your willpower
Do you think you haven't got any willpower? Chances are you do, although it might need a bit of a boost from time to time, and you can take steps to improve it and make it easy to achieve your goals. The "marshmallow study" shows that having willpower has a knock on effect in many areas of life. In this study, some four and five-year-olds were told they could have one sweet now or two later, then they were left alone with the single sweet.
Most ate it either straight away or within a couple of minutes. Those who waited long enough to get two were also the ones who performed better at school, were healthier and more popular with their peers. When they got older they did better in exams and were more likely to go to University. Walter Mischel, who did the study, believed it was because they were more self-disciplined You can watch the marshmallow experiment here...
People who eat healthily, quit smoking without support or get things done without procrastination rarely live a constant fight with their willpower. They set up their lives so that making the right choice is the easiest one. Here are some top tips for doing that.
- Decide what you want to use your willpower for, then break the goal up into smaller, more manageable pieces.
- Avoid constantly telling yourself you have no willpower. It tends to become a self fulfilling prophecy! Think of it more as if your willpower is pointed in the wrong direction. At present it keeps you from achieving your goals, you need to turn it around so it helps you achieve them.
- Be realistic in what you want your willpower to achieve, and plan to make it easier for yourself. Trying to follow a strict diet in a house full of leftover Christmas goodies will take more willpower than starting in February when they're gone.
- Setting small goals which are relatively easily carried out helps to improve your willpower - replace one drink of alcohol, coffee or tea a day with something healthier, exercise once or twice a week, cut out your takeaway alternate weeks. It will be easier to improve this later than to plunge into a completely different lifestyle right from the start.
- Willpower is easier with specific goals. 'I want to lose weight/get more done' is too vague. How much do you want to lose, and by when? Exactly what do you want to achieve and how will you do it?
- Reward yourself as you reach each step of your goal. It's easier to remain motivated if you know you are working towards something good. (Even the kids with good willpower would have eaten the sweet if they knew that waiting wouldn't get them any benefits!)
- Accept that your willpower is not infinite, choose to use it for what's most important and don't overwhelm yourself with too many competing demands.
- Habits are behaviours we carry out without thinking about, and they take no willpower at all. Avoid the struggle by making your goal into a habit.
- Sometimes what looks like a lack of willpower is something more. Working out what's holding you back and why can be helpful. Hypnotherapy can be really useful here, as it helps you look into your unconscious mind and remove the blockages.
- Get a support network, either casual like friends or family, or professional, like a hypnotherapist, to keep you on track.
- If something goes wrong, think of it as a temporary setback rather than a failure of willpower. If you eat a bun or takeaway whilst on a diet you don’t need to wait till next Monday to 'start again'. Start again now.
- Learn from what's gone wrong in the past - what makes your willpower fail? How can you avoid that pitfall or strengthen your willpower to deal with it better?
- Emil Coue, who developed the use of affirmations, said that we feel bad when there is a battle between will and emotion. You can use your will to try to force change, but if your emotions are pushing you in the other direction, it’s impossible. As a hypnotherapist, I'd call these the conscious and unconscious minds, but it works in the same way and is one reason hypnotherapy supports change so well. It goes directly to the unconscious mind and removes the resistance.
- How much will power does it take to avoid jumping off a tall building or into a pool filled with hungry sharks? None, of course, because you have powerful reasons to do so. Find powerful reasons to reach your goals, and you'll find it easier to get there.
If you think hypnotherapy can help you improve your willpower, do get in touch
Debbie Waller is a professional hypnotherapist, specialising in stress, anxiety and related issues. She also offers EMDR which is used for trauma, PTSD, phobias and OCD and publishes hypnotherapy-for-ibs.co.uk for those interested in using hypnotherapy to relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Debbie owns a multi-accredited hypnotherapy school, Yorkshire Hypnotherapy Training and offers further training for qualified therapists via CPD Expert. She is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words, editor and contributor to the online magazine Hypnotherapy Training & Practitioner, and co-author of The Hypnotherapy Handbook.
For more information on any of these services, phone 01977 678593.
Researcher & drafter: Rachel Waller.