For years, self-help authors have been writing about willpower. The most popular notion being that we start out with a set amount of willpower and as we perform tasks throughout the day, our level of willpower depletes until we no longer have any left for the day.
However, this doesn’t make sense when translated into reality. I’m sure you’ve had days where you got way more done than usual… Maybe you were left feeling energized to do more after. And then other days that were complete write-offs and you might as well have stayed in bed.
So why is it that 9/10 times when we make big promises to change for good, we end up right back where we started? Well, there are a few reasons:
- Trying to introduce too much change at once
- Never creating a solid action plan to work from
- Not addressing the life patterns that keep old habits around
But mostly, down to its core, it’s about how we perceive willpower.
Improving your life requires change. You might be trying to lose weight, eat healthier, get to bed earlier, clear your overloaded inbox, etc. All this requires that you draw on your willpower to actually get it done.
So what is willpower exactly? Well, you may know it by other words: determination, drive, self-discipline, self-control, etc.
Essentially, it’s all the things that raise your heart rate and make you sweat a bit because you’re making yourself do something you don’t really want to do – even though you probably should.
We used to think that it was a limited resource that we would have to draw upon and as we used it would eventually run out, but the research tells us otherwise. Stanford researchers asked 153 students about their attitudes towards motivation and willpower. Those that believed that willpower was a limited resource felt drained and depleted after a difficult task. And those that felt that it was cumulative, meaning that it builds as tasks get done, did better on every following task. The mind works in mysterious ways.
So what does this mean for you?
Well it means that how you THINK about willpower translates to how you ACT. Your own self-talk and beliefs determine how you handle a difficult situation and can mean the difference between getting good or bad results out of it.
For example, if you can’t find the motivation to get to the gym, try to re-frame the situation. Tell yourself every time you get your butt into the gym, you’re more capable of doing other things like getting home and cooking a healthy meal. This way you feel more energized and empowered when making changes.
If you’re lost on how to approach this, here are some action steps:
- Ask yourself about your understanding of willpower. How do you think it works? Consider how you define it and how that affects your actions.
- Use this prompt (or better yet, make your own): Following through on my new habits makes me feel like I’m capable of anything.
- The next time you feel like you’ve run out of willpower, ask yourself how you can reframe what it means to you. What success have you already achieved and how can you draw energy from those successes?
If you mix your willpower in with some positive self-talk, self-compassion and social support (think accountability) you’ll be serving yourself some savoury success soup.
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