Why is willpower important? How To Increase Willpower.
Research shows that people with stronger willpower are better off in almost every aspect of life. They’re happier and healthier, have more satisfying and long-lasting relationships, are more successful, make more money – and even live longer.
In a nutshell, if you want to improve your life, your willpower is a good place to start. The way our brain-reward system works is by focusing on not doing something actually makes us do it. Our willpower is like a muscle and the more we train it the stronger it gets.
First: Understand your brain’s reward system.
Why do we often feel bad and guilty after satisfying our immediate desires, like buying a new sweater we don’t need, or spending a lazy evening in front of the TV?
And why do we do it again and again, despite knowing better?
Because your brain’s reward system is not always your friend – and sometimes it leads you in the wrong direction. So what exactly happens in the brain when you crave something?
First, you see or smell something you desire – and just that, is enough to activate the reward system in the brain. The system releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which activates the areas of the brain responsible for attention, motivation and action. These dopamine releases can be triggered by anything we have associated with feeling good: a 70% off sale sign at a mall, the smell of delicious food, or an attractive face smiling at you.
And when this dopamine is released, the object that pulled the trigger immediately becomes very desirable – even if it’s against our long-term interest, like unhealthy food, internet binges, binge drinking or one night stands.
This is why we engage in activities that seem to be irresistible at first glance, but afterwards, leave us feeling guilty and dissatisfied.
Our prehistoric ancestors, however, were not troubled by this reward mechanism. In fact, being attracted to sweet things was to their advantage, as sweet fruit and berries were a crucial part of their diet. Our ancestors were also freer to freely pursue mating partners without modern-day society constraints.
But even though this impulsive mechanism isn’t as useful in our day and age. It’s still there, and we have to make sure it doesn’t push us toward unhealthy or unwise choices.
So what can you do to increase willpower?
You can actually make this weakness your strength by combining unpleasant tasks with something that gets your dopamine firing.
For example, bring your boring paperwork to your favourite café and finish it with a delicious cup of hot chocolate.
Second: Stop actively resisting or thinking about your desires.
Here’s a challenge: for the next five minutes don’t think about white bears.
Can you do it?
Most people fail in this task.
Even though we never usually think about white bears, if you actively try to not think about them, it becomes almost impossible to stop. The same is true for your cravings: though suppression might seem to work at first, it actually makes them worse. This was shown by one researcher who believed that thought suppression compels us to do the very thing we are trying to not think about.
So how can you overcome cravings without pushing them away?
When you’re on a diet, don’t deprive yourself of your favourite foods because it will only increase your cravings. Instead of deciding “you won’t” eat fast food or cupcakes, devote your energy to the idea that “you will” eat more healthy food. A decline in unhealthy food will automatically follow. You’ll have a much easier time sticking to such a positive challenge.
Third: Willpower is like a muscle.
Did you ever help a friend move his furniture? At the end of the day, your muscles are so tired you couldn’t carry anything more even if you wanted to.
For your willpower, it’s just the same. After flexing your willpower muscle too much you become exhausted and can’t control yourself anymore. And if you hit the willpower gym, you could
improve the strength of your willpower muscle.
So why does overusing your willpower cause you to run out of it?
Because every successful attempt to exert self-control draws from the same limited source. This means that resisting temptation will not only weaken your ability to avoid other temptations but also prompt procrastination
and other willpower failures.
And this willpower exhaustion happens all the time. This is because many daily tasks you would not think of as willpower challenges. Having to commute, sit through a boring meeting or choose between 20 brands of shampoo – all draw from our limited daily willpower reserve.
And just as it’s possible to train your arm muscle through weightlifting, it’s possible to train your willpower muscle with willpower challenges.
By performing small but regular willpower challenges you can gradually improve your self-control.
For example, keep a forbidden candy jar in an easily visible location you’re never allowed to touch – no matter how tempting it looks.
Practising often with this small temptation will train your willpower muscle. It’ll help you cope when it comes to larger willpower challenges. You can increase your willpower by having control of yourself.