Pump up your Willpower
Strengthen your resolve with these expert-backed habits
In an ideal world, you'd jump out of bed with the sound of the morning alarm, not miss a single morning walk, stop after just one piece of chocolate … you get the drift, right? Instead, do you often lament not being able to drum up the willpower to follow through on your plans? Is there a way to cultivate the essential ability that allows you to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals like closing an online shopping app that is calling out your name to buy stuff? But here's the good news: Your willpower is like a muscle. All it needs is a bit of exercise. Experts tell us how to build it up so you can stay strong.
Limiting screen time takes determination, not just for children but adults too. Try the "out of sight, out of mind" principle, says Aparana Samuel Balasundaram, Gurugram-based psychotherapist. Consider muting social media and group-chat notifications during work hours. At home, put your phone on 'do not disturb' mode. That way, you'll only be alerted to permitted calls and notifications. If that's hard to achieve, "try and mentally picture a 'stop' sign to remind yourself what your goal is", says Balasundaram.
Meditation trains the mind to resist its natural urge to wander. "Just 15 minutes of meditation for five to six days can make your brain focus better and you will be less stressed," says Dr Shalini Anant, clinical psychologist and faculty member at Mumbai's Tata Institute of Social Sciences. And it doesn't matter what your preferred method is, as long as you are aware of your breath and body sensations without an effort to alter them in any way. Another method is to focus your attention on a word, mantra or the flame of a candle.
"Incentives can work wonders," says Anant. Say, you love binge- watching Stranger Things. Devote some time to your goal -- be it reading, family time or meeting a deadline, and then reward yourself to one episode. "Build willpower by first resisting the temptation for as long as you can and dangle the reward when you fail," she says. Use this trick when you're trying to curtail certain undesirable habits. For example, if you're hooked to shopping, promise to reward yourself if you manage to resist it for a week or a few days, after planning ahead. You'll be surprised how well you deliver when there's an enticing reward waiting for you.
Yes, you heard right. There are merits to reining in your impulse. When trying to choose between ordering a juicy cheeseburger and a salad, take your time and think about your current choices. Research published in Psychological Science says weighing the pros and cons can help you avoid self-destructive behaviour. For bigger decisions, it is best to sleep on them.
Make SMART goals
Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely -- that's SMART. Essentially, this means intelligent planning. For instance, if you are stressing about a deadline, break up the task into small achievable steps. "Set targets that are practical for you," says Dr Sameer Malhotra, director, Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Max Healthcare, New Delhi. Write them down so you can see them every day. In fact, announce it to the whole world, says Balasundaram. This makes you accountable to a group of people that matter to you.
Take it one by one
Trying to do it all is never a good idea. Quitting smoking, reducing sugar and being calmer in stressful situations -- are easier said than done, especially all at once. Don't be surprised when you're overwhelmed just after one day. Instead, change one habit at a time, suggests Anant. Rather than thinking "I will not lose my cool today", think "For the first half of the day, I will take three deep breaths before reacting". Increase the duration gradually once you succeed. Before you know, 20, 40, 60 days have passed and you have come farther than you expected to.
Struggling to be punctual? "Think of a time when somebody stood you up or came so late that it derailed the rest of your day. Tap into your empathic side and use it as an emotional reminder that you do not want to be the one responsible for putting someone else through that kind of stress," says Balasundaram. In such situations, think ahead of the obstacles you will face. "Tell yourself that delays will happen. So, as you set out for a meeting, prepare for delays and plan to leave 20 minutes earlier than you would," she explains.
It's hard to say no to a savoury treat or drag yourself to the yoga mat when you are cranky, hungry or sleep deprived. In other words, you lose the 'power' in your willpower. Getting seven to eight hours of sleep is necessary for your brain to think more responsibly. Similarly, as you exercise and eat healthily, your body and mind will begin to work together to ensure that you live a healthier lifestyle.
"There's a Chinese philosophy for making a change, known as qigong. To condition yourself to a new habit you need to purposefully do the task for 100 days at a stretch. This 'rewires' your brain in such a way that it becomes second nature," explains Anant. The only caveat: If you skip a single day of this 100-day change, you'll have to start over from day one.
We have all experienced the feeling of great inspiration that has jolted us into action. When we are motivated, we get a rush of energy. Our own brain receives the "if she/he can do it, so can I" message that sets us in motion. "And once you begin, it inspires you to keep going further," says Anant.
Adapted from Prevention India. May 2015 LIVING MEDIA INDIA LIMITED.