How to Increase Willpower and Determination
One of the most frequent questions I get from friends and colleagues is:
Is it possible to increase willpower?
Yes! And it’s scalable!
What I mean by scalable is that no matter what’s your willpower level at the moment, you can find a task that fits you. If you think you have no willpower at all, then find something really easy to do.
If you want to clean your house, then the task of cleaning everything may seem insurmountable. Break it down to smallest tasks you can manage.
Why is Willpower important?
There’s practically nothing you can’t do when you put your mind to it.
People often think of willpower as doing one really hard thing. And yes, that too, is willpower when you complete the monster report at work or muster up the will to clean your apartment. But that is just the tip of the iceberg.
What you should aim for is consistent action over long periods. Something that you do day after day ad nauseam. You do it so often it becomes boring, and you want to change that, but you don’t because you know that if you continue there’s nothing that can stand between you and your goals.
Wash one plate
Let’s say you have a mountain of unwashed dishes in your sink. You can feel that you’re will never be able to get them all washed. If you want to wash them all at once, then you will never start. Make a plan that’s easy to execute.
In the unwashed dishes example, you can wash the dishes you just used and one more item. You may end up washing more than one old item. Even if you if you go one by one; all your dishes will be done at some point in the future.
Put one clothing item in the closet
Now moving on to other items that need to be cleaned up. First, decide to not leave a mess from now on. Everything you use you will put back to its place and then add just one more item. As time goes by your place will get cleaner and cleaner.
By the end of the process, you don’t have to clean anything as you don’t leave a mess anymore. Now you can move on to other cleaning tasks like dusting and vacuuming.
It could take months!
You will get there!
When you want to get fit, you may think about one hour sessions in the gym.
No! Don’t do that.
Do one pushup or squat after you wake up.
After a week add another pushup. And then another. I guess you see where this is getting.
In a year you will be doing 52 pushups every morning after you wake up. It will take you about 100 seconds.
Pro tip: As soon as your willpower permits add daily walking to your exercises. Walking is one of the best things you can do for your body and mind.
The mistake many people make is that they start to train their willpower from the hardest tasks they can find:
- Clean the whole house
- Get your inbox to zero emails
- Run every day
Do not do that!
Let’s say that you go to the gym, put 300 pounds (136kg) on the bar, and are unable to push it up from your chest 10 times. The chances are that you may not be able to do it. Does it mean that you are a failure?
No! It doesn’t! You have to start with the weights that you can work with. Then gradually you will get to the level where you can bench press 400 pounds (181kg).
It will take time, but you have to start at the level that you can handle.
From my personal experience, when I started running, I ran for a minute and then walked a minute. I covered maybe max 3 miles (5km). Last summer I ran 105.5km that is two and a half marathons back to back.
Small willpower exercises you can use
One willpower exercise that I use myself and recommend as a really easy place to start from is brushing your teeth. Now, there are levels to this. If you don’t brush your teeth, then start doing it.
If you brush your teeth every day, then switch hands. Start brushing your teeth with your weaker hand. If you have brushed your teeth with your right hand up until now, switch the hand to left.
That is it! You will feel a fair bit of discomfort in the beginning, but it is one of the easiest ways to gradually increase willpower.
Stop swearing and using strong language. If possible ask your family members or co-workers to notice when you use the language that drunken sailor would.
Set up a swear jar and give yourself a fine every time you speak the way you shouldn’t. The fine for swearing should be large enough that you wouldn’t want to do it. For some people, it may be a dollar for others 5.
Promise to use the contents of the swear jar to buy gifts for the family or buy pizza for everyone in the office.
Is willpower self-control?
The short answer:
So, what’s the difference?
Most of life’s actions are within our reach, but decisions take willpower. ― Robert McKee
Willpower is the mental energy you have. Some people have more of it the other less. Willpower is a finite resource. If you are working on some very demanding tasks, then you will run out of willpower and can’t continue.
Sometimes you have more willpower than you think you have. In this case, you think that you have given your all and cannot continue, but then you find a hidden reserve and can go on.
No matter how large your willpower reserves are, you will run out of it if the task is too big for you. But it’s possible to for you to increase willpower with practice.
Self-control is the action you take. You use willpower to control yourself. For example, when you are running a long distance race, and there’s only a little bit left. You may feel that you have nothing more to give and quit the race. But you can pull yourself together and finish the race.
The difference is how much willpower reserves you still have. For example, you can increase willpower to stop smoking or to achieve other specific goals.
How long will willpower last?
All the good things you have in your life need constant attention. As with exercising so with willpower you have to make it a part of your lifestyle.
The good news is that as you increase your willpower, your default mode keeps it going you. If you don’t quit doing the things that require willpower, then you will maintain your willpower level.
If you want more willpower, you have to do more demanding tasks.
Increase the load of your willpower exercises.
Whatever you do, don’t fall back to your old self. Then your willpower muscle will deteriorate, and you have to start to build it up again.
Find that on more thing you are going to do from now on. Nothing big! Just a bit more demanding than your current level.
Also published on Medium.