Health psychologist Kelly McGonigal says willpower is "the ability to choose what matters most even when it's difficult or when some part of you wants to choose something else." So how do you get that, the power of self-control, to achieve the ultimate goal of self-improvement? Here are six suggestions:
1. Tackle tough tasks early in the day when your willpower is strongest. If you face a challenge in late afternoon or evening, strengthen your self-control with a healthy snack like Greek yogurt and almonds.
2. Start your day with “a couple of wins,” says life coach Caroline Adams Miller. These can be as simple as making your bed, eating a healthy breakfast and/or doing 10 push-ups before your shower.
3. Engage in self-control workouts. You can strengthen all-around willpower through small tasks of self-mastery: Practice good posture or strive to eliminate yeah from your speech and say yes instead. Even brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand will work, but why not commit to a new habit that leads to self-improvement?
4. Avoid rather than resist. Minimize your willpower expenditure by creating roadblocks to temptations. Plan a route to your office where you don’t pass the bakery with beckoning croissants. If you tend to overspend, leave your credit cards at home when you meet a friend for coffee at the mall.
5. Treat setbacks with kindness. You have two cocktails, a cigarette, a slice of cheesecake. If your lapses spawn self-criticism—“I’m lazy; I’m stupid; I’m hopeless”—you’ll feel depressed and guilty, making you more tempted to seek sweets, cigarettes or alcohol for comfort. McGonigal calls it the “what the hell” effect: I’ve already blown my diet, why not have another slice of cheesecake? Instead, treat yourself as you would your best friend, with kindness. Recognize that lapses are human, forgive yourself and recommit to your goals.
6. Outsource willpower. Many of us are easily distracted by computer games, social media and the Internet, and wasting minutes—or hours—on shopping, gossip or sports websites. Apps and other tools can help you avoid high-tech procrastination. Freedom (MacFreedom.com) lets you disconnect your computer’s online access to focus on a deadline project. You can be more selective with SelfControl (SelfControlApp.com) and Anti-Social (Anti-Social.cc)—blocking access to, say, Twitter, Facebook or email, while retaining access to vital Web resources. Want to know exactly how much time you really waste on the Internet? TimeSink (ManyTricks.com) logs the minutes spent on every website and offers a detailed graph of time wasted (and well-used).