“The will of man is his happiness.”
Until recently my good friends knew me as an exemplary heavy smoker. My solid relationships with cigarettes continued for 15 years; for the last 8 years I smoked one pack a day on average. I’ve quit about half a year ago.
Since then I never slipped, despite the parties and get-togethers with my smoking friends. Not even when visiting my hometown earlier this month, where you can still smoke in some restaurants and nightclubs. When I say I don’t smoke anymore the first question they often ask is how did I do it. I usually say that you have to want to quit badly and you must start seeing yourself as a non-smoker. They nod and say I’m lucky to have such strong willpower.
That’s where I feel puzzled. I can’t quite comprehend how do I have strong self-discipline skills if I can’t make myself go to gym for a second week in a row? Where does my willpower hide when I’m in a desperate need of losing couple of kilos?
Well, Rich Girls, I’m happy to report that most of my willpower related questions were answered by Roy F. Baumeister – a professor of psychology who presented his new book here in London the other day*. I thought you might want to get familiar with some of his findings.
If you’d like to improve your self-control abilities and be able to achieve much more, consider the following:
Willpower is a limited resource and we use the same self-control mechanism for different activities.
Let’s say you’ve spent this afternoon visiting your favorite boutiques and trying on various gorgeous sets you would like to have in your wardrobe. It wasn’t easy, but you successfully resisted temptation to spend your rent money on a Marc Jacobs’ resort 2012 sundress. You were also heroic enough to ignore new Louboutin collection and you stepped away firmly from a magnificent shoulder bag by Alexander Wang.
Guess what will happen in a coffee shop you are about to enter? When choosing little something to accompany your latte, you will most likely take the best looking and the biggest piece of chocolate brownie they have.
That scenario is common because our willpowers deplete through the day. The self-discipline is like a muscle that gets tired when you use it too much. Good news is, just like a muscle the willpower can be trained. The more you exercise your self-control skills the better you get.
5 stunning ways to improve willpower:
1. Pick Your Fights Wisely
When you are ready to create a new habit or willing to aim for big win, commit to your choice and put everything else aside. Decide what is one, the most important thing you want to change right now and devote all self-control you have to this precise goal. Your willpower needs as much fuel as possible to take you to the finish line, so don’t waste it on something that is not so critical.
Because the willpower is limited resource, you must begin big-league projects only when you feel you can handle them. If there are too many affairs that stress you out, it is better to postpone The New Life mission and approach it when you don’t have too many things on your plate.
Most importantly, set your goals as specific as you can possibly imagine. You have to define what it is you want to achieve very clearly.
Let’s say you would like to be slimmer than you currently are. Ask yourself, what is your dream weight, put the number on a paper.
Next, list all the reasons why the magic number will make your life better. When describing the reasons you have to be as sincere as possible. Those must be the ideas you truly believe in. Don’t borrow explanations your besty used when she spoke about her perfect weight.
Finally, describe all the actions you have to take to get closer to your goal. Again, be very concrete and specific. Write down small, easy to take daily steps that will bring you closer to tackling the weight loss issue.
2. Block the Exits
Let’s stick to the losing weight example for a bit. When you go for groceries avoid candy & sweets section. Don’t buy any desserts if you know you won’t be able to resist them while watching new episode of Gossip Girl.
Instead, come up with a substitute. Decide what will you do next time you crave for a cheesecake. Say to yourself, when I feel like eating something sweet, I take a yogurt with berries or a fruit.
If you plan to go jogging tomorrow morning, put your sportswear set on a chair next to your bed so it would be the first thing you see when you wake up. Don’t give yourself any chances to reconsider.
3. Mind Your Sugar Level
Here is why dieting is so difficult. Your willpower depends on the amount of sugar in your blood stream. Apparently, self-control and decision making ‘uses’ big amounts of glucose. And when you don’t have enough glucose in your blood your willpower goes down.
That’s why you shouldn’t go to an important interview or business meeting on an empty stomach. If you feel hungry, your decisions most likely will be poor and unreasonable.
In urgent cases when you need a rapid sugar hit, eat a chocolate bar, something that will deliver a lot of glucose into your blood right away.
As for dieting, Roy F. Baumeister recommends try losing weight by making very small changes to your diet and focus on increasing daily sport activities instead.
4. Make Progress Reports
To achieve your goal you must know what exactly you do and how you spend your time every day. Normally we are able to name the websites we visited yesterday and remember what movies we watched, but we have a very vague idea about how much time we spent on those things. The problem is that if you don’t know what are you doing precisely, you won’t know what it is you need to change to get to your aim faster.
Come up with ways to examine and measure your life. Update your food diary daily, install software that will give you online usage report, track your finances with mobile apps and so on.**
Additionally you could ask your friend to check on you weekly. You can even make a bet with someone to keep yourself accountable. Posting progress updates on your blog or Facebook profile might also be a good idea.
5. Embrace To-Do Lists
Lots of studies say that unfinished tasks annoy and distract us big time. Brain hates half-baked projects and it will keep on trying to remind you about them.
Because the tasks are in your head all the time, they suck up your self-control abilities bits by bits. The more uncompleted things you’ve got on your mind, the less willpower you have to confront them.
Take the jobs half-done out of your head and put them on paper. Classic to-do lists do wonders. Only remember to make the list very specific. Clearly define the next action you must take. Instead of writing “Prepare for a home party” say “Make a guest list”, “Buy 100 Party Balloons” etc.
The best way to handle your to-dos is by working on the most demanding item first thing in the morning, while your willpower is strong and eager to act. Brian Tracy, a well-known motivational speaker, has a great “Eat That Frog” book*** that explains the toughest-thing-first method in details. I promise to tell you more about his technique next time.
That’s it for today Rich Girls! I wish you the very best luck with developing your willpower. Remember, self-disciplined people are like this only because of the way they approach their day-to-day lives. It’s not the superpowers. It’s all about creating and maintaining positive habits. The more lasting habits you have the less willpower you use to make right decisions.
I’m looking forward to hearing from you. Come brag about the tasks you tackled and share your tricks that help you to improve your self-control skills!
*Must Read Book by Roy F. Baumeister: Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength
**Apps and Websites that help to measure and examine your day-to-day life:
- A web tool that allows you to easily understand and optimize how you spend your time and attention: RescueTime
- Google Chrome Extension that helps you stay focused on work by restricting the amount of time you can spend browsing time-wasting websites: StayFocusd
- Online Food Diary: MyFitnessPall
- Finance Tracking Iphone App: iXpenseIt
***Must Read Book by Brian Tracy: Eat That Frog
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