The basic definition of willpower (also called self-control, self-discipline, or self-regulation) is the ability to control one’s emotions, desires, and actions. There’s been a wealth of research on willpower, and the evidence shows that in many ways, willpower works like the muscles in your body. Each of us has a given amount of willpower per day. It is a limited quantity that fluctuates from person to person. For some people, willpower is freshest in the morning (early birds), while others feel that their willpower switches on later in the day, peaking in the evening hours (night owls). But whatever type you are, your willpower, like your muscles, depletes as you use it…but with the right exercises you can also build your willpower stamina.
Self-control is diminished by more than tempting foods. Your willpower can be drained by many things, including:
- Lack of sleep.
- Controlling your temper (suppressing emotions).
- Forcing yourself to laugh at an unfunny joke (expressing false emotions).
- Sitting through tedious meetings (practicing patience).
- Pushing yourself to keep working when you are tired.
These struggles will deplete your self-control temporarily, but practicing them in the right amounts has long-term benefits.
Willpower is increased over time by exposure to stress, just like a muscle. For example, turning down the doughnuts at morning meetings may temporarily drain your self-control, but over time, exercising resistance strengthens your resolve, making it easier to turn down future temptations. You can extend and replenish your willpower with a restful night of sleep, with a nap, by practicing meditation, by going for a walk, with breathing exercises, and with positive self-talk.
Let’s focus a bit here on meditation—a practice that lots of people know about, but far fewer have actually adopted.
A little dose of doing nothing each day helps improve impulse control, self-awareness, and stress management. Meditation is the act of focusing on an anchor (often the breath, but also sights, sounds, activities, and so on) and releasing attachment to thoughts, feelings, and distractions. It’s a simple practice but not always easy. I love meditating. It helps me quiet the thoughts and opinions of others and myself. Meditation is a great way to shut down the useless mental static that so often runs amok in our heads. It helps me take responsibility for my thoughts, feelings, and actions.
“Floating” is my term for meditating. When I float, I allow myself—my thoughts, my feelings, and my physical being—to drift by like clouds in the sky. I drift without focusing on any one thing, just letting my thoughts wander where they want. I visualize my mind as a river, and the leaves and twigs floating by are my thoughts. I let them follow the stream. I’m often rewarded with inspiring thoughts and intuitive ideas.
Simply taking a few minutes to watch thoughts and emotions “float” by helps me realize the true nature of what is going on, and that helps me let go. At the very least, I gain clarity and am less likely to automatically or unconsciously react on an emotion that could have unpleasant results.
Sometimes when I meditate, I’ll notice a cyclic thought that my mind keeps repeating. I refer to this as “the conveyor belt.” These are thoughts I can’t seem to get out of my head. After I meditate, I’m able to consciously understand what is underlying the thought. That allows me to let it go.
Not only will meditation help you build willpower, it will also help you release negativity (improving your mindset) and boost weight loss! Go on…give it a try—and let me know how it goes.
Check out Joel Harper’s website, or click here to buy his book, Mind Your Body: 4 Weeks to a Leaner, Healthier Life.