Achieving any goal you set for yourself generally requires consistent and disciplined action. At some point, distractions and temptations will inevitably arise and motivation will wane. You’ll be struck by feelings of ambivalence towards the goal which was once so inspiring to you. And this is when you begin to rely on your willpower. What you may not know about this mysterious energy that we call willpower is that it is actually fuelled by glucose in your brain. Every day you use your willpower for all sorts of things, and the fuel required for self-discipline becomes depleted.
Of course, when it comes to staying committed to your goals, there are other strategies that are more effective than relying on willpower alone, but I think it’s important to understand how willpower works.
For a start, the daily actions that drain your reserves of willpower are:
- Doing things you don’t want to do
- NOT doing the things you do want to do
- Focusing on tasks and making decisions.
This explains why at the end of a long day of getting up and going to work, choosing to eat well, perhaps working out when you don’t feel like it, managing your emotions, attending to tasks, refereeing arguments between your kids and making decisions, your willpower reserves can be dangerously low. There’s nothing left in the tank, so to speak.
The good news is that we also know how to replenish those reserves of willpower so you can maintain your self-control in the face of temptation.
Below I’ve listed five tips for giving yourself the best chance of having some reserves of willpower on hand when you need it:
Stick to a routine
Daily healthy habits will obviously support you in achieving your goals but a consistent routine has the added benefit of conserving willpower. You see, habits bypass the part of the brain associated with decision making. Remember it’s the decision making process that taxes mental energy. Every time you question your commitment or wonder if you’ll do what you need to do to continue moving towards your goals, you are using up those energy reserves. You’ll have more of that precious willpower in reserve when you need it by embedding those positive behaviours into your routine and making them a habit.
Meditation is a great way to restore depleted energy but beyond that, it’s also an extremely effective mental training task. By simply focusing on your breath or a mantra and training your mind to stay on task when it wants to wander off, you’re building mental muscles and learning impulse control. Meditation helps you tune into your body and be curious about urges and sensations without automatically giving in to them. That’s a handy skill to have when dealing with temptation.
The glucose in your brain responsible for your willpower increases when you eat. By having regular nutritious meals and snacks you increase the energy available to exert self-control. Of course, eating well also gives you the physical energy to get through the tasks you need to, and if you feel satisfied, you’re less likely to be tempted by quick-fix, sugary or junk foods that crash your energy and give you brain fog.
Get enough sleep
When you’re sleep deprived, your body burns through the energy reserves that you need for willpower. Fatigue is never conducive to self-discipline or focused action. If you aren’t sleeping well, try to address it as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, if you’re going through a period of disrupted sleep try to catch up during the day. Even a 20-minute nap can go a long way to reversing the negative consequences of a bad night’s sleep.
Be kind to yourself
Most of us rate ourselves poorly on self-control and this is at least partly due to our tendency to focus on our setbacks much more than our successes. Setbacks are human and are very much a part of the change process. If you give them too much attention, you’ll only begin to doubt your ability to make positive changes and achieve goals. And if you’ve convinced yourself your efforts are futile, you’re going to give up. The key to staying disciplined and making progress is to remember you’re human, forgive yourself and move on as quickly as possible.