Its a New Year. This typically means everywhere you look someone has some great wisdom about achieving your new resolutions. Take responsibility, don’t make excuses, get your mind right, make better choices, and on and on. They all sound great and they all have some truth to them.

But the fact of the matter is that these powerfully simple words are incredibility difficult for most people to execute upon. It’s almost like telling a person who is depressed that the solution to their depression is to just be happy, easy to say but not easy to do.

Along with this wisdom you will often see tips to achieve your goals, these little tips are sometimes nothing more than ways to trick your willpower to be less of an issue. The assumption is that you lack the necessary resolve to achieve your goals so you might as well remove your willpower from the equation.

  • Remove junk food from your house
  • Only go to restaurants that serve healthy food
  • Transfer your weakness to something else (get your mind off it)
  • Cut “bad” things out of your life
  • Remove yourself from the situation

Nice tips, but are any of these working to improve the core problem of increasing your willpower? I’m not saying that these tricks won’t help you achieve your goal to some degree, in fact some of them can be very helpful in building better habits. However, in order to create lasting success you will also need to directly confront and improve your resolve, willpower, mental toughness, whatever you want to call it; your ability to stand in the face of temptation and adversity and do the right thing because you choose to, not because you have removed it from your life. Chances are if you haven’t done some work to improve your willpower when those temptations come back into your life your resolution will falter.

Let’s assume for a moment that your willpower is like a muscle and your ability to use that muscle is a developed skill. Like a muscle your willpower needs to be trained to grow and become strong, and in order to access your willpower you will need to practice and develop the skills to do so.

So, how do you go about training your willpower?

In this post I’ll point out some of the strategies I leverage in training myself to strengthen willpower and improve my capabilities to access it.

Take on uncomfortable experiences

Exposing yourself to diverse experiences can naturally create a bit of angst and uncertainty. Experiencing something new challenges your ability to understand how you will respond to something uncertain. This could be anything from skydiving, taking on a new project at work, volunteering, try a new sport, anything that is just a little out of your comfort zone. These uncomfortable experiences can also be little tests in the gym as I have written about before – Why I Train

Once you’ve tackled that little thing outside your comfort zone your ability to tap into more willpower grows allowing you to take on larger challenges.

Set some small goals

I once heard someone say, if you don’t know where you are going you are bound to get there. Meaning, that if you don’t have any plans or goals for yourself life takes you for a ride rather than you being in control. You’ll find yourself asking a question “How did I get here?” By not establishing any goals you are less likely to see opportunities that lead where you want to go. Goals are important, big ones and little ones. I’m talking here about the little ones to build up that mental muscle. By setting some little goals that are within reach you will have to use a little willpower to get there, but once you have completed the goal you know that you can do it. And just like tackling new experiences you can then set some larger goals because your willpower to do so has expanded.

Learn something new

We all get stuck in patterns of behavior, some of these habits can be tough to break out of because they are comfortable. Before tackling that tough bad habit you can grease those mental pathways by picking something new to learn. Could be taking a painting class, guitar lessons, writing a computer program, or even just picking up the instruction manual to learn how to operate that new TV you just bought. By learning new skills it tells our brain that we are capable of new behaviors and new patterns so getting out of that bad habit is more within reach.

Meditate

Often what many of us are battling is that voice in our heads. That voice telling you that you can’t do something, go ahead and eat that piece of candy, stay sitting in that chair rather than taking a walk, or a multitude of other chattering conversations that are constantly going on in our heads.

Meditation can help you practice presence, practice quieting that voice in your head. Once you start quieting that voice in your head your resolve to accomplish your goals can be seen more clearly, without being clouded by negative or unnecessary thoughts. There are numerous sources online for you to learn about the value of meditation and ways to get started, just start with a Google search.

Challenge what you believe and or know

This one is tough, but in my opinion one of the most important things for us to continually improve. It is painful to learn that we were wrong about something we thought we knew, the ego doesn’t like to be wrong and will go to great lengths to protect itself. The deeper the belief, the harder it is to challenge that belief. This is exactly why people typically can’t hold constructive conversations about religion, politics, parenting, etc. the ego feels too much pain to even consider the thought of being wrong.

Most of us are drawn to information that reinforces our existing beliefs, but how do you know if another point of view is not correct if you haven’t studied it. For example; If you are a Vegetarian make some time to study what Paleo is all about, if you are a Christian try reading a book about Buddhism, if you are a Democrat pick up a popular read by a Republican.

You may end up with with more commitment toward your original belief, or you may have some second thoughts and want to study further. Either way you will have won by challenging your willpower to experience something extremely uncomfortable.

Part of continually challenging your beliefs is to also humble the ego, and to build the capacity and willingness to suffer some pain in order to experience the rewards. Along the way you will learn something about yourself, while increasing your resolve and willpower.

Find your why

We’ve all read about a person that has hit rock bottom or experienced some tragedy and then turned their life around. The person who just experienced the loss of a loved one in order to realize the importance of cherishing those relationships before they are gone, or another person who has just been diagnosed with a disease to realize that they have been damaging their body for years with poor food choices or poison like tobacco or alcohol. These people have all found a powerful reason to change their habits or lifestyle – they have found their why. Unfortunately they had to experience a terrible situation before they could see it. The good news is that we all have an opportunity to find a powerful why without having to experience a tragedy.

If you can find a why powerful enough you can move mountains, your willpower will be unbounded. Take a look at your goals and your resolutions and ask yourself why are they important to you. Challenge those whys and dig deeper until you find a why that you believe in, or you may find that changing your goal will better align to a powerful why.

Want to lose weight? Is it because you want to look good for next summer on the beach, or is it that you want to be healthy and alive to see your first grandchild. Which is the more powerful why to you?

I’ve left this one last because in my opinion it is one of the most powerful techniques giving you better access to your willpower. But finding a powerful why will take some searching, and a humble ego. Some of the suggestions above can help you build that foundation and set you on that path toward finding your why and creating resolutions that last.

 

Training your willpower is a never ending endeavour. You will always face some level of new temptation challenging your willpower. I believe it is important to incorporate a continuous improvement mind set into your routine. These strategies are just a few of the techniques I continually work into my life to improve my ability to take responsibility, make less excuses, get my mind right, and make better choices. If you found this post compelling I would love to hear some of the strategies you leverage to improve your willpower by commenting in comments section at the end of this post.