Among all the qualities that will make you a better person, we'll talk today about willpower.
I think there's no need to explain why the force that will initiate your actions, help you endure adversity and prevent you from giving up is important. Willpower is a valuable asset to develop, so here are some techniques to improve it.
To help us structure our discussion, let's use the commonly accepted analogy that willpower is like a muscle. Proceeding with this analogy let me suggest you different ways to:
- Muscle up your willpower with some proper training
- Preserve your willpower before it get exhausted
- Use some techniques to support your mental strength
Muscle up your willpower
Even if some people were born with iron will, most mentally strong people I know had their willpower strengthened through trials and/or dedicated training. So instead of waiting for the next hardship, let me suggest the following training to develop your willpower:
- Act without delay
One simple way to exercise your willpower is to immediately do the simple actions required to fulfill your needs.
Yes, it's as simple as that:
You want to drink a tasteful orange juice: Go to the grocery, buy some oranges and get back home to make this juice.
You just think you need some exercise: Just do it! Some pushups and situps shouldn't take you too much time.
Don't listen to the voice in your head which says it's too late, that you'll take that juice later, that sweating now would be a bad idea, or that you have something more important to do… Apply your willpower and do what's needed to get what you want, now.
This might seems foolish, but please give it a try at least one week.
- Take a cold shower
Stay under the cold water for at least one minute. Even better take a cold shower, every morning, all year long, to feel that you're not like the rest.
Nothing is better to get some more confidence than an easy win. So just take this cold shower, celebrate your first success, and now that you have shown your willpower, you can go on to achieve a new level.
(besides cold shower will not only make your will stronger, but that's another story)
- Wake up (even a little bit) earlier each morning
Getting out of the bed early in the morning, when it's so easy to get some more sleep is probably the simplest way to test your willpower
All you have to do is set up your alarm clock once and get out of the bed when it rings. Of course it's a little bit harder than that, but you can adjust the difficulty by varying the time stolen on your sleep. Ultimately the only thing that really matter is that you stick to your decision to wake up earlier.
As a bonus reward, enjoy the time gained to do something good for you.
- Use your opposite hand
Force yourself to write and take things with your opposite hand.
There are basically two cursors you can move to adjust the level of your training: The difficulty and the required duration.
This exercise and the following are clearly challenging because it's hard to maintain (even slightly) uncomfortable behavior for a long time.
Use your opposite hand a whole day!
- Stand/sit straight
Don't wallow on your seat, keep your back straight, raise your head. Always.
This is easy enough to seem appealing to everybody but maintaining your posture the whole day should be a challenge to most of you. Keep on practicing a whole month and you might discover by yourself the other hidden benefits.
- Get out of your comfort zone
Always do a little bit more than what your accustomed to. Always try new things, even if you're reluctant at first.
Say hello to strangers or talk to them. Learn new language. Read about topics you (think you) don't care. Try this activity you know you're not good at. Clean more. Tidy up like you've never did. Speak about your feeling. Tell the truth…
You get the idea.
Preserve your willpower
The surest way to prevent willpower exhaustion is to avoid wasting it.
- Don't struggle, but adapt
Don't waste your willpower trying to force things that don't depend on you. Observe and use every new context to your profit.
Taoist use the term ‘wu wei’, that most westerners translate into ‘non action’ but to me, the idea is rather to not exhaust my willpower for things that are beyond my control, and to adapt instead1.
Be like water, get around the obstacles, find your way to your goal without rushing.
Take some time to calm your mind and develop your attention.
Just breath slowly and focus only on your breath 10 minutes a day. Every time an idea popup in your mind, gently but firmly chase it away to get back to your breathing. After few weeks you'll see how your newly acquired relaxed attention and quiet mind makes you more determined.
Use techniques to support your willpower
Every martial artist or physical worker will tell you that technique beat strength because strength fade over time. A good technique can amplify your strength an be used as a substitute sometimes. The same goes for willpower: here are some techniques that can support your willpower or even replace it at some point.
- Leave no place for avoidance
Anticipate every possible way to escape, and make it impracticable.
If you want to run, tell everybody that you'll do, explicitly cancel every alternate activities, put your shoes and clothes in front of your bed the night before, and go to bed early to be rested…
- Commit early
Exert your willpower as early as possible, when it's easy instead of at the last moment when all the accumulated constraints, temptations, annoyances will make your choice harder.
If you want to run a race, which choice is at the same time easier and more efficient: Wait till the very last month do decide that you'll run it and train in a hurry ? or Register one year before and immediately start to train at an easy pace with an event so distant that it doesn't scare you ?
One year before registering and training is easy, because you have time to improve, no pressure and no fears.
- Substitute habits to choices
Every choice drain a little bit of your willpower. Habits are the secret weapons to do anything without effort.
Can you remember when, as a kid, you had to force yourself to brush your teeth ? I guess no. Because it's now an habit that doesn't require the slightest effort from your part.
Try to make every useful thing in your life an habit. (reading, drinking water, exercising, sleeping, meditating…) Leaving no place for choice, there is no more place for this feeling of effort.
Some people push it that far that they refuse to choose their clothes every day and buy the same clothes to wear everyday2.
- Focus on purpose
When it gets harder, remember why you choose to do it.
There's a reason why you have to do it. Thinking about the outcome is the best way to endure the effort.
Furthermore chances are that the harder the trial is, the more you will remember it with pride when you get through.
I hope you've discovered some new new ideas and that you're now eager to practice and strengthen your will. As always, I'd be glad to hear about your experiences, results, opinions..