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How to Improve Willpower

How to Improve Willpower
Pat Dickson - Wed Aug 07, 2013 @ 11:37AM
Comments: 0

Three Steps to Improving Willpower:

  1. Do or don't do what you need to do right now - don't wait until tomorrow
  2. Eliminate your vices one at a time
  3. Create good habits

I've lately been writing a lot in the self improvement genre. I've advocated eating one meal a day, proposed a workout routine for a man my age, and even outlined a goal achievement program.

Everything I suggest works. My one meal a diet will help you lose weight, my workout will make you stronger, and my goal calendaring method will help you attain success like you've never known before.

I'm not tooting my own horn.

I admit that many, many diets, workouts and goal setting programs work very, very well. My way of doing any particular thing may or may not be the best for you. Yes, my way works for me, and maybe you, but each of us is different.

The Paleo or Atkins, or even a 6-meal a day diet, may be better for you than my one meal a day diet. Swimming may be your ideal for achieving health and fitness, not lifting weights and walking as I do. Maybe you don't need to write down and calendar your goals as I propose is best. An internal and firm commitment may do the trick.

What am I saying?

Willpower is the problem with most diets, exercise routines, and goal achievement.

With enough willpower, just about any diet, method, commitment or dream will yield incredible results.

This was my epiphany this morning. I woke up to my iPhone alarm and just wanted to sleep more. I'll skip my workout and do it tomorrow. Delaying one day won't hurt. I need a break, I told myself. Then I closed my eyes, but before I could fall asleep again my eyes popped back open!

I was currently failing at my diet and workouts because I wasn't doing them. Due to lack of willpower I was eating more than once per day quite frequently and I was just skipping about half my workouts. I was sleeping in like a lazy boy! This was why I wasn't losing any weight and wasn't increasing my muscle mass or endurance. My methods worked, as I had used them with success before, but only if I got out of bed and went to the gym, and only if I stuck to my one meal a day plan.

So, in the context of my three steps to achieving willpower, I will discuss how they worked to get my lazy body out of bed and to the gym this morning, and then how I skipped the delicious Del Taco breakfast burritos I so dearly love. Oh, I also skipped the ones at Chick-fil-A, which are just as yummy, but I'll get to this in a minute.

Do or don't do what you need to do right now - don't wait until tomorrow

When I woke up this morning, I tried to bargain for one more sleep-in. I promise I'll go to the gym tomorrow, I told myself. But I realized that this was the exact problem with my having lately missed so many workouts. Tomorrow I'd probably try the same ruse on myself! And it would work!

Part of my epiphany was that I clearly realized the secret to success is acting now! If you put it off until tomorrow, you'll continue perpetuating the destructive cycle.

So, I forced my lumbering body out of bed and brushed my teeth and went to the gym. It hurt, but soon I felt great. 12 minutes on the treadmill and I was ready for some squats.

When I finished working out and warming down on the treadmill, I hopped in my car and started it up. You have time for a few of those yummy Chick-fil-A Chicken Breakfast Burritos, I tried to bargain with myself. You deserve it for having gone to the gym.

Again I realized I was bargaining with myself to have two meals today and to really get started tomorrow. I promised tomorrow I'll be good. Just one more time! It was hard to just drive home with an empty stomach and get ready for work, but I did it. As soon as I made it home I felt relieved and proud of myself.

One step at a time my willpower was increasing. By not putting off what I needed to do until tomorrow, and doing it now, I was getting back on track.

And I have to boast, on my way to work I skipped the Del Taco breakfast burrito challenge. I refused to give in today with the fictitious promise of starting fresh tomorrow. Now was the time, right now, to start doing things right. Delay is only an excuse to fail yet again.

Eliminate your vices one at a time

As I'm writing this article, my stomach is empty, and as I've advocated and sworn before, skipping breakfast gives me energy. Had I eaten my desired breakfast burritos, I'd have been way too sleepy and lethargic to be imparting this wisdom upon you right now.

Which gets to the second point, the value of increasing your willpower by eliminating your vices. As we have seen, one of my vices is breakfast. When I eat it I fail to achieve my goal of blogging in the morning. I am too lethargic with a full tummy to get any work accomplished.

For each of us I believe our vices play a large part in reducing our willpower. For me, eating at the wrong time takes my fire away. For you, it may be watching television or surfing the internet, or stopping at the tavern every day after work. Each of us is different. Each of us has a long list of challenging vices that steal our valuable time and willpower. As a result, we don't have time or the energy, or the desire to achieve our goals. We don't lose weight, we don't go to the gym, we lose focus at work. The list is legion.

Let me explain. I believe the vices can be anything which steals from our achieving our goals. Vices steal our willpower. They kill our energy and time that would otherwise be available for achieving our goals, making our lives better, or just doing (or not doing) what we need to be doing.

I think eating too much, smoking, drinking, or watching television or surfing the internet in excess are vices. Chatting on the phone too long is a vice. Why? These activities take away from what we could otherwise be putting into good things.

Think about it. What if you eliminated eating too much or too frequently, smoking, drinking, or watching the television or surfing the web in excess from your life? What would you have left? You'd have lots of time and energy available for doing good things and achieving your goals.

You'd have nothing but good choices in which to invest your time and energy!

Create good habits 

This third point, create good habits, is really a corollary to my second point above, eliminating vices. In discussing this point, I give all the credit to Benjamin Franklin, who first introduced me to this concept. 

Here the idea is that getting rid of our bad habits and doing what we need to do now is best done one step at a time. 

For example, I have mentioned two challenges I've had recently, those of skipping workouts and eating breakfast when my one meal a day diet forbids it. Imagine I'm really having issues with willpower so that correcting both problems simultaneously is just too much to bear. I don't have what it takes to do it all at once.

My answer is to do things one step at a time. I want to work out every morning and stop eating breakfast, but to make these challenges manageable given my feeble will, I might start with only getting up and going to the gym. When my workout is finished, I can eat my breakfast burritos. Perhaps after a month of not missing a workout, I'm then able to start my diet in earnest.

The point is that by creating good habits one at a time we aren't overwhelmed. And the amazing thing about habits is that we just do them without thinking. Go to the gym regularly and consistent enough, and going to the gym is no longer a challenge. You just do it. It is part of your routine. Stick to your diet long enough, and that's just the way you naturally eat, without even thinking about it.

So, the irony is that good habits require no willpower. We just do them without thinking! This in turn makes it easier for us to focus on our next goal or challenge. Just turn them into habits as well.

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