Where there’s a will there’s a way
Last updated at 15:29, Friday, 02 November 2012
WILLPOWER is key in helping us control our lives, but all too often it seems to let us down. This expert advice could help boost its power and transform our fortunes.
IT’S a common lament that our lack of willpower often leaves us unable to resist life’s temptations whether it’s retail therapy, chocolate or wine.
Even if we try hard to strengthen our elusive mental resolve to say ‘no’ instead of ‘yes’ and dutifully make resolutions to do better annually, many of us frequently fail and become further discouraged by our ‘weakness’.
But it may not be all our fault, says Roy F Baumeister, co-author of Willpower: Why Self-Control Is The Secret To Success, who reveals a strategy to help us boost our willpower.
“People frequently feel overwhelmed these days because there are more temptations than ever to seduce us and distract us from our goals,” he points out.
“Your body may have dutifully reported to work on time but your mind can escape at any instant through the click of a mouse or a phone.
“You can put off any job by checking email or Facebook, surfing gossip sites or playing a video game. You can do enough damage in a 10-minute shopping spree to wreck your budget for the rest of the year.”
He and fellow author, John Tierney, who’ve spent years researching willpower found that people spend at least a fifth of their waking hours (three to four hours daily) resisting desires, which doesn’t include the time spent using willpower to make decisions.
The most commonly resisted desire, in one study they examined, was the urge to eat, followed by the urge to sleep, break off from work, succumb to sexual urges, and finally surf the web or watch television.
Generally, people were relatively effective at avoiding naps, sex and the urge to spend money, only mediocre at passing up food and soft drinks, but failed nearly half the time on resisting the lure of TV and the web.
Yet improving willpower is the best route to a better life, benefiting every area from personal life to career, according to Roy, and he believes we can strengthen our mental resolve by exercising it, in much the same way we might exercise our muscles.
“However you define success, it can’t be achieved without first mastering self-control and exercising willpower,” he says.
“Acquiring self-control isn’t as magically simple as the techniques in self-help books imply, nor is exercising it as grim as the Victorians made it out to be.
“Ultimately, it takes practise and self-awareness but the rewards are huge. Improved self-control will let you relax because it removes stress, enabling you to conserve willpower for the important challenges.
“Toning up your willpower will help you lead a more productive and fulfilling life and one which is easier and happier.”
Follow the simple 10-step plan to gain willpower without pain and help yourself transform your life.
DIET & WILLPOWER
Various research, says Roy, has highlighted the fact that low glucose levels in the body can leave people less able to control their will, to indulge in risky behaviour or be prone to temptation.
Mental energy is fuelled by the glucose in the body’s blood stream, so to help maintain steady self-control he suggests eating foods with a low-glycaemic index.
Those are foods such as vegetables, nuts including peanuts and cashews, raw fruits such as apples, blueberries and pears, cheese, fish, meat, and using olive oil.
Having those present in a diet will help give a sustained dose of glucose to the body, rather than a ‘quick hit’ derived from high glycaemic foods such as white bread, potatoes, white rice and fast food. The latter leaves you vulnerable to spikes in energy and therefore vulnerable to lack of control and cravings.
HIT THE SNOOZE BUTTON
Set aside enough time to sleep, Roy advises. “Lack of sleep has assorted bad effects on mind and body. Hidden among these is the weakening of self-control and related processes like decision making,” he points out.
“Adults routinely short-change themselves on sleep, and the result is less self control. By resting we reduce the body’s demands for glucose and we also improve its overall ability to make use of the glucose in the bloodstream.”
He highlights a recent study which found that workers who didn’t get enough sleep were more prone than others to engage in unethical conduct on the job, and more likely to falsely take credit for work actually done by others.
Try overriding a small but habitual bad habit, perhaps slouching when you sit at your desk, or avoiding bad speech habits such as peppering your conversation with “you know” or “like”.
Set yourself a time-limit of a month to eradicate the habit, and practise it when your willpower is at its strongest, early in the day.
Research, Roy cites, found that engaging in small willpower boosting exercises, and achieving success, acts as a warm-up for tackling a bigger challenge like giving up smoking or sticking to a budget, and makes the willpower fitter and more resilient.
KNOW YOUR LIMITS
Recognise that willpower is finite and can become fatigued by overuse. Each day may start with your stock of willpower fresh and renewed, but throughout the day events will chip away at it.
“You pull yourself out of bed even though your body wants more sleep. You put up with traffic frustrations. You hold your tongue when your boss or partner angers you,” says Roy. “You try to maintain an interested, alert expression on your face while a colleague drones on during a boring meeting. But remember that what matters is the exertion, not the outcome.” Acknowledging the times you’ve managed to use your willpower will boost your self-esteem, which will help you exercise your will positively.
REST AND REFRESH YOUR WILL
The old advice that things will seem better in the morning has nothing to do with daylight, and everything to do with depletion.
“Beware of making binding decisions when your energy is down, late at night or when you’re exhausted, because you’ll tend to favour options with short-term gains and delayed costs,” Roy says.
“You can’t control or predict the stresses that come into your life but you can use calm periods to plan a strategy for dealing with them when they do. Then you’re more likely to have the reserves of willpower to cope with real challenges.”
Put your life in perspective by setting aside a day for reflection each year, maybe your birthday, he suggests.
“Ask yourself whether you are where you want to be, what could be better and what you could do about it. Aim for a broad five-year plan along with more specific, manageable monthly goals,” says Roy. “A plan leads to a clearer mind and allowing you to see where the challenges lie.”
LIMIT YOUR TARGET
Don’t make a list of goals – nobody has enough willpower to cover a huge list of challenges from dieting and giving up smoking to taking more exercise.
“When people have to make a big change in their lives, their efforts are undermined if they are seeking to simultaneously make other changes as well.
“Those goals will simply compete with one another and each time you try to follow one, you reduce your capacity for all the others,” says Roy.
“Instead make one resolution, stick to it, and by succeeding you’ll boost your belief in your willpower.”
He cites research which showed that those who sought to control their drinking tended to fail on days when they had other demands on their self control, compared with those days when they devoted all their efforts to limiting their alcohol intake.
Whenever you set a goal, beware the tendency to be over-optimistic about timings.
“When was the last time you heard of a road or building being completed six months early? Late and over-budget is the norm,” he says.
“So always leave some flexibility and anticipate set-backs when you plan otherwise you’ll get discouraged easily, which will further confirm your belief that you have weak willpower when actually you’re probably just guilty of setting yourself an unrealistic target.”
“If there are extra challenges ahead in your life, like doing your income tax or travelling or facing a tricky work period, figure out where you’ll get the extra willpower to cope,” says Roy.
“That could be by cutting back on other demands on your willpower in less crucial areas of your life, whether it’s resolving to tidy the house or stick to an exercise routine.”
DELAY DON’T DENY
People who keep putting things off and procrastinate continually can be criticised but Roy points out that occasionally this can be a positive trait.
“People tempted by chocolate can avoid it by telling themselves they’d have it some other time – a postponement strategy which works better than trying to deny themselves altogether,” he says.
“It can also work for other temptations from over-eating to watching television. But make sure that when you do succeed you reward your efforts. If you give up smoking, use the money you have saved to buy a treat for yourself.
“And, remember that exercising willpower brings joy as inner discipline leads to outer kindness. Those with stronger willpower are more altruistic and likely to help others, donate to charity and look for ways to help their family as well as strangers.”
First published at 16:49, Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Published by http://www.nwemail.co.uk
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