The biggest enemies of willpower: temptation, self-criticism, and stress… These three skills —self-awareness, self-care, and remembering what matters most— are the foundation for self-control. – Kelly McGonigal, The Willpower Instinct
There’s a reason the road to success is unpaved. It if was a nice walk, everyone would be on it. There’s a reason only a small percentage are actually out there doing what they want every day (and getting paid for it). These reasons boil down to willpower.
Willpower is that tiny unshakable voice that keeps you on the unpaved road. It’s that push that gets you up even when it’s dark and you don’t think you can go another day. It’s that tiny ember that keeps glowing even when it feels like it’s too cold to move.
The reason success is so sweet is because nothing tastes as good as when you’re starving for it –when you’ve worked for it. It’s these days ahead of us that make the success worthwhile and the stories of it even greater.
If you can manage to not just hold onto your willpower, but learn to train it and strengthen it, you’ll create an even greater ally to your success.
Kelly McGonigal is a health psychologist who is known for her work in the field of ‘science help’—popular explication of scientific research—as it relates to achieving personal goals despite inner conflict. Her book, “The Willpower Instinct” explains the new science of self-control and how it can be harnessed to improve our health, happiness, and productivity.
Follow these 6 steps daily to increase your willpower the same way you’d strengthen a muscle:
1. “Ask your brain to do math every day, and it gets better at math. Ask your brain to worry, and it gets better at worrying. Ask your brain to concentrate, and it gets better at concentrating.”
Practice concentrating for small increments everyday. This means no Facebook, no Tinder, no texting. Practice doing a task fully without any distraction. See how long you can go the first time then double it the second.
2. “When we’re stressed, our brains persistently mis-predict what will make us happy.”
At a certain point we know when we’re doing something we shouldn’t. You need to learn to resist those urges, however strong they may be. The best way to deal with actions based on stress is to take a step back and ask yourself if what you’re about to do will bring you closer or further from your goal.
3. “When people who have taken a positive step toward meeting a goal—for example, exercising, studying, or saving money—are asked, “How much progress do you feel you have made on your goal?” they are more likely to then do something that conflicts with that goal, like skip the gym the next day, hang out with friends instead of studying, or buy something expensive.”
Don’t let the positivity or acknowledgment of others make you feel like you can take a break, but motivate you to push further. You can rest when you’ve achieved your goal and until then, flattery will get you nowhere. Don’t succumb to it.
4. “You need to recognize when you’re making a choice that requires willpower; otherwise, the brain always defaults to what is easiest.”
Remember that it’s supposed to be hard. If it was easy, everyone would be successful. What you’re doing now may hurt, scare you and may be downright uncomfortable, but remember that you’re doing in despite all that. Don’t give in because of it.
5. “Self-awareness: the ability to realize what we are doing as we do it, and understand why we are doing it.”
If you can’t be self-aware at all times, try to be inspired by other people who overcame defeat … who built a life from nothing … or turned their life around. Learn from their perseverance, and their will to succeed.
6. “Students who were harder on themselves for procrastinating on their first exam were more likely to procrastinate on later exams than students who forgave themselves. The harder they were on themselves about procrastinating the first time, the longer they procrastinated for the next exam! Forgiveness—not guilt—helped them get back on track.”
Forgive yourself for the time you wasted yesterday and the time you went drinking and wasted the next day hungover. Harping on it won’t do you any good. Instead, forgive yourself and move forward. Remind yourself of this if you need it, but don’t imprison yourself by it.
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