Just what is your greatest human strength? Is it intelligence, the ability to create strong relationships, good old fashioned humour or even courage? Is it your unabashed culinary skills, your ability to win any argument or your knack for hunting out the best bargain from the bargain bin?
Professor Roy Baumeister would argue that it's none of the above. In-fact he's been studying this stuff since 1978 (during which time he released a mere 31 books). So in a nutshell, this guy knows what he's talking about.
I was lucky enough to attend a workshop with the man himself at the Happiness & It's Causes Conference a few years ago and according to Baumeister, our number one human strength is Will Power.
Yep you got it. Good old-fashioned will power (or self control) is the most important muscle we need to have if we want to:
- Be Happy
- Be Successful
- Have strong mental health
- Earn more money
- Enjoy better physical health
- Have better relationships
The list goes on...but it's pretty obvious when you think about it. People with good willpower create better habits. They make a conscious effort to create the life they want to be living and in their own best interests. They make better choices.
I also see this a lot when it comes to living your passion in life. So many people will say to me: "Oh I just don't have the time to figure out my passion" or "I'll get around to it one day" and before you know it another 10 years have slipped by and they're still stuck in the same uninspiring job living mediocre lives. It's sad but true.
On the other hand, it's the people who consciously decide to make some changes who end up succeeding and living the life of their dreams. The ones who say:
"You know what, I'm really busy right now, but I'm going to make time for this stuff because it's important."
"I'm going to look at my life and sacrifice a few other things that I enjoy so I can really focus on creating the life I want. In the long run it will be worth it."
"No matter how busy I am, I'm going to commit to making this happen."
These are the people who succeed in creating a life of passion, purpose, happiness & excitement. And it's all because they commit; they apply their will power to make it happen.
So how do we start to improve our own will power?
I've pulled together a list of the top 3 things that Roy Baumeister recommends we do to make some improvements in this space.
1. Goal setting
The first step is to set clear and concise goals. We need to somewhere to direct our will power right? So, the clearer the goal, the easier it is to then harness your will power to move forward and achieve it.
The second step is to monitor and track your progress. Another obvious one. How can we change a habit for example, if we don't track our behavior? We need to know where we are doing well and what areas need improvement, and the only way we can know this is by regularly monitoring our progress.
Thirdly, we need to build up the frequency of how often we use our self-control. Think of it like a muscle - the more we flex, the bigger the muscle gets and in turn the easier it becomes to use our will power to build the kind of life we want.
Baumeister suggests that if we want to give up smoking for example, then we need to practice daily self control exercises in other areas (eg consuming less sugar or sweets) and this will improve our success rate with smoking by 5 - 15%.
Anyone can do it
So in a nutshell, self control is not something we're born with, it's something we learn to develop if we want to be successful in life. The good news is - if you feel like you're lacking in this department, all you need to do is practice, practice, practice!
Will Power runs out
A word of warning about will power: we do not have an unlimited supply of it. That's right. Each day, we have a limited supply of will power that gradually gets used up. So, be aware that it's much easier to exert your will power in the earlier stages of the day, which means being extra vigilant during the evening.
Baumeister's research has also shown that decision-making drains our will power - so if you have a lot of big decisions to make, you're much better off allocating time in the morning to do so, or instead of forcing decisions in the evening when tired, it's better to wait until the next day.
Will power & glucose
Roy's research has shown a direct correlation between glucose and willpower. What this shows is that will power requires glucose as a form of fuel. So if we are low on glucose this can negatively affect our willpower.
Based on this, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Glucose feeds our will power, so it's important to eat regular, healthy meals to keep going
- Our immune system uses up glucose - which explains why will power can go out the window when we're sick
- During PMS, the body uses significantly more glucose, hence why us women can go a little crazy (and eat mountains of chocolate...or is that just me?)
- Mental activity uses a lot of glucose so be sure to consume enough 'brain food.'
If in doubt, laugh!
And if none of the above works, then you can always just resort to watching a comedy movie. Baumeister referenced a study where increases in positive emotion (such as watching back to back comedy movies) was shown to significantly increase will power!
7 Steps to Improve Your Will Power
- Set clear & concise goals
- Monitor the effectiveness of your goals
- Regularly exercise your will power muscle (practice, practice, practice!)
- Eat regular healthy meals (the glucose will fuel your will power)
- Avoid making important decisions during the evening or before bed time
- Be well prepared during times of low-glucose (ie PMS, sickness)
- Do something to make you laugh!
This article first appeared on SimpleLifeStrategies.com. Zoe B is an acclaimed Career Strategist who helps thousands of people all over the world change careers to do work they LOVE. To get started with your own career change, register for Zoe's free online MASTERCLASS: Find a New Career in 30 Days.