Essentially, your level of willpower creates you. It determines whether you make the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ decisions when faced with seemingly small challenges in every day life. And whilst these decisions seem small at the time, together they determine our health and happiness in the long run.
If you have willpower, you’re more likely to study more than others, potentially getting you the job you always wanted. You’re more likely to stick to a diet and maintain a regular exercise routine, resulting in better health in the long run. You’re more likely to decline temptation in situations that could potentially make or break a friendships or relationship.
But is it our fault if we lack willpower?
Researchers have found that the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain responsible for self-control – can become weak if we don’t utilise and test it regularly, a lot like our muscular system.
Fortunately, it can be trained and strengthened like a muscle, too, which is why what I’m about to tell you works so well.
I’ve shared the following trick with a number of people that I’ve met who have either asked me how I stay motivated or told me that they wished they had the willpower to do certain things. Whether it was to go to the gym; maintain a healthy diet; not drink alcohol; quit smoking or all of the above, they wanted to achieve something but just didn’t have the willpower to stick to their word and stay strong when faced with temptation.
How it works…
A couple of years ago, I realised I had developed this weird, annoying habit that I couldn’t shake. It drives me mad on a daily basis, but I know I wouldn’t be the same person without it.
(By the way… By continuing to read, you’re holding yourself responsible for how much this wonderfully annoying habit is going to get in your head).
You won’t feel different when you finish reading this, but at some point in the near future, you’ll realise the trick has become a part of you, and once it does, there’s no going back.
You should have already noticed that you’re always in one of two mindsets. Let’s call them “Yes” and “No”. You use them to respond to situations and challenges that happen throughout your day.
“Yes” is a positive, motivated mindset that leads to things like eating healthy, hitting the gym or going on a spontaneous day trip with friends on a Sunday when you kind of want to be lazy. Doing the right thing, basically.
“No” is the complete opposite: “CBA. Not now. Later. Maybe. Meh. etc…”
Now, picture a situation, relevant to you, that would require a small amount of willpower in every day life.
Let’s say, for example, you’ve just thrown a load of trash into your bin. Then, as you begin to walk away from the bin, you realise you just threw away some recyclable cardboard, which should have gone into the cardboard recycling bin.
You know you should go back to the bin and remove the cardboard to then put it in the recycling bin… but can you be bothered?
You now have two choices: Say “yes” to the small, annoying task at hand, or say “no” and be on your merry, lazy way.
This might seem like a small, useless practice, and you don’t really care about the damage done by not recycling this tiny amount of cardboard, but something happens when you make either one of the two choices.
You’ve now accidentally created a potential exercise for the part of the brain that’s responsible for willpower – the prefrontal cortex.
If you say “yes” and remove the cardboard from the incorrect bin, you have now not only solidified the idea to yourself that, today, you’re in a positive, productive mindset and will continue to be so for the rest of the day; you’ve also completed a physical exercise for your brain and made it that little bit stronger.
If you were to maintain this mindset and complete tasks like this on a regular basis, then your willpower will be stronger than ever before you know it, becoming apparent in all aspects of your life.
However.. If you say “no”, you’ve done the opposite. You have now not only confirmed to yourself that you’ve decided to be a little bit lazy and approach the day as a “no” day, you’ve also missed out on the perfect opportunity to increase your willpower with a very small, practical exercise.
What you’ll begin to notice as the weeks go by, is that when you say “no” to these little tasks, you enter a state of mind that lasts for the entire day. You’re negative and dismissive of any challenge – big or small.
But when you say “yes” to the challenges, you get a small, rewarding chemical reaction in the brain that leads to us feeling good about being positive and productive, and, even when it’s in the smallest form, it has a prolonged impact on our state of mind.