We are on a constant quest to get as much done as possible, but it’s time that we all become a little more realistic about what can and can’t be achieved through sheer willpower.
Repeat after me: My willpower is limited.
Columbia psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson argues that our willpower is often not up to the task of resisting temptation. She offers, instead, that we use if-then planning to reduce our reliance on our willpower.
Rather than making a decision when the time comes, if-then planning allows you to plot out your defense ahead of time so that you’ve already made the right decision when the time comes.
Unfortunately, though, we can’t always plan for what’s ahead, which is when our willpower really needs to kick in.
Psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and science writer John Tierney, who wrote a book all about willpower, believe that willpower is like a muscle. It is something that we can build up through the right sustenance and exercise, and it is also something that can get worn out.
Here are some quick tips to boost your mental strength and fortitude:
Productivity experts suggest that one of the most effective ways to get unpleasant or difficult tasks done is to tackle them first thing in the morning.
Since our pool of decision-making energy is limited, our willpower depletes throughout the day. By getting the tough stuff out of the way first thing in the morning, you’re preventing yourself from reneging on those tasks later in the day.
This may seem counterintuitive for people who want to use their willpower to lose weight, but having a snack with some sugar can give our brains the energy boost it needs for sustained willpower.
Baumeister and other researchers at Florida State University found that when study participants performed acts of self-control, their blood glucose levels were greatly reduced, which led to poor performance on following tasks involving willpower. But when the participants consumed a glucose drink, their willpower was no longer impaired.
While some scientists used sugary treats like lemonade to test their theory, more longer-lasting brainpower comes from snacks that incorporate protein and complex carbohydrates.
While scientists from the University of California have said that self-compassion supports self-improvement motivation, researchers from the University of Illinois also found that the way we talk to ourselves matters.
According to their research, talking to ourselves in the second-person–starting your self-affirmations with “you”–strengthens both our actual behavior performance and our intentions for performing better more than first-person self-talk–starting sentences with “I.”
So the next time you need to psych yourself up to get through a difficult task, don’t be afraid to tell yourself, “you can do this.”
Telling someone to calm down is probably the least effective way to get someone to actually calm down, but if you want to give your willpower a fighting chance, it needs to be done.
When we are experiencing bouts of high stress, our bodies enter a mode of fight-or-flight. During this time, we are biologically predisposed to act more instinctively and less logically, which means our willpower and decision-making energy take the backseat.
One of the best ways to bring stress levels down and increase focus is through meditation, which has been shown to do all manner of positive things for your body and mind. It’s so effective, even Wall Streeters are doing it.
Numerous studies and safety advocates have compared drowsy driving to drunk driving. In fact, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says that drowsy drivers are responsible for one in six fatal car accidents. This is because moderate levels of sleep deprivation produce impairments in our cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication.
If you can’t drive after staying up for 28 hours straight, you better believe you won’t be making many good decisions either. During sleep deprivation, our prefrontal cortexes lose control over the regions of the brain that create cravings and the stress response.
The simple solution to mending our brains and boosting willpower: get some sleep.