This article first appeared on the blog of Intentional Insights, a nonprofit organization that empowers people to refine and reach their goals by providing research-based content to help improve thinking, feeling, and behavior patterns.
Tempted by that second doughnut? Struggling to resist checking your phone? Shopping impulsively on Amazon? Slacking off by reading The Huffington Post instead of doing work? What you need is more willpower! Recent research shows that strengthening willpower is the real secret to the kind of self-control that can help you resist temptations and achieve your goals. The great news is that scientists say strengthening your willpower is not as hard as you might think. Here are seven research-based hacks to strengthen your willpower!
Photo Credit: Smile!
Smiling and other mood-lifting activities help improve willpower. In a recent study, scientists first drained the willpower of participants through having them resist temptation. Then, for one group, they took steps to lift people's moods, such as giving them unexpected gifts or showing them a funny video. For another group, they just let them rest. Compared to people who just rested for a brief period, those whose moods were improved did significantly better in resisting temptation later! So next time you need to resist temptation, improve your mood! Smile or laugh, watch a funny video or two.
Photo Credit: Fist of Fury!
Clench your fists or partake in another type of activity where you exercise self-control. Studies say that exercising self-control in any physical domain causes you to become more disciplined in other facets of life. So do whatever works for you to exercise self-control when you are trying to fight temptations: clench your fist, squeeze your eyes shut, or you can even hold in your pee.
Photo Credit: Gleb Tsipursky meditating in the park
Meditation is great for a lot of things -- reducing stress, increasing focus, managing emotions. Now research suggests it even helps us build willpower! With all these benefits, can you afford not to meditate? An easy way to get started is to spend 10 minutes a day sitting in a calm position and focusing on your breath.
Photo Credit: 225/365 Reminders
Our immediate desires to give in to temptations make it really challenging to resist them. Our emotional desires seem like a huge elephant and our rational self is like a small elephant rider by comparison. However, one way to steer the elephant is to set in physical reminders in advance to remind ourselves of what our rational self wanted to do. So put a note on your fridge that says "only one doughnut" or set an alarm clock to buzz when you want to stop playing video games.
Photo Credit pai eating
Did you know that your willpower is powered by food? No wonder's it's so hard to diet! When we don't eat, our willpower goes down the drain. The best cure is a meal rich in protein, which enables the most optimal willpower.
Photo Credit: Forgive
How is self-forgiveness connected to willpower? Well, what the science suggests is that feelings of regret deplete your willpower. This is why those who eat a little too much ice cream and feel regret are then much more likely to just let themselves go and eat the whole pint or even gallon! Instead, when you give in to temptation, be compassionate toward yourself and forgive yourself. That way, you'll have more willpower going forward!
The most important thing to strengthen your willpower is commitment to doing so! Only by committing to improving your willpower every day will you be able to take the steps described above. To do so, evaluate your situation and why you want to strengthen your willpower, make a clear decision to work on improving this area, and set a long-term goal for your willpower improvement to have the kind of intentional life that you want.
Then break down this goal into specific and concrete steps that you will take based on the strategies described above. Research shows this is the best path for you to build your willpower!
So what are the specific and concrete steps that you will take to build your own willpower? Share your planned steps and the strategies that you will use in the comments section below!
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Bio: Dr. Gleb Tsipursky is a social entrepreneur, writer, science popularizer, and scholar. He leads Intentional Insights, authored Find Your Purpose Using Science, and is a tenure-track professor at Ohio State. Subscribe to his newsletter, support his writing on his Patreon page, and get in touch with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.