Most of us believe we don’t have enough willpower. In the American Psychological Association’s annual surveys on stress, people regularly cite lack of willpower as the No. 1 barrier to following through on changes that would improve their lives. And willpower is a limited resource (just like fuel in your gas tank). Study after study shows 1) we deplete our willpower reserves as we call upon them and 2) we call upon willpower constantly. Well, shit.
Every act of willpower draws on the same tank of gas, leaving us with less to expend on the next self-control challenge. And we exert willpower dozens of times a day, when we repress an impulse (say, to curse the driver who cut us off) and filter out distractions like the construction racket outside our office. It takes willpower to control thoughts and feelings and stay alert during a long meeting. What’s more, the same energy used for self-control is spent in making decisions, even inconsequential ones. You expend willpower when pondering which yogurt to buy from among 40 varieties offered. Willpower is not a cheap resource. Exerting self-control is one of the brain’s most energy-expensive tasks, sapping more blood sugar, or glucose, than memory or language chores. Double shit.
When it comes to energy expenditure, one defense against a willpower scarcity is to avoid glucose dips. So it's important to maintain stable blood sugar with a diet of low-glycemic foods such as non-starchy veggies, fruit, nuts, beans and whole-grain products. Eating well plays a major factor in your ability to exercise willpower!
Reducing the number of "withdrawals" can also keep you from burning out. Simple actions like owning less clothing to reduce your choice of what to wear each morning. Or laying out your workout clothes the night before. Paring down the number of decisions you need to make in a day will help keep your reserves at an optimal level. Another willpowering-conserving technique is using "if-then" thinking that sets up a mental plan to deal with probable temptation. "If they serve cake, then I'll stick with fruit." Or you can use this same thinking to pre-commit to goals. "When the alarm goes off at 6am, I'll get into the clothes I laid out the night before and head to the gym." The idea behind this strategy is to make as many behaviours as possible automatic.
Studies have also shown that you can actually cultivate the gray matter needed for self-discipline (a.k.a. building a bigger gas tank). Meditation and physical exercise are two simple ways to train your brain and it's decision-making centres to make a better choice in the moment. Meditation trains your brain to let go of thoughts which in turn leads to a better ability to set aside temptation in other areas of your life. Lastly, willpower also has a spillover effect. If you practice self-control in one area, you’ll probably experience improved self-discipline in others. Hooray!
While you may be desperately wanting to create something new for your life (I am constantly working toward the things I want in my life - i.e. goals), the question you may need to ask yourself is, are you willing to do what it takes to get it? Leverage some of the strategies here to flex that willpower, build it up, and get yourself moving consistently toward your goals!