“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
Many people believe they could improve their lives if only they had more of that mysterious thing called “willpower”. With more self-control we all can live a better life by eat right, exercise regularly, avoid drugs and alcohol, save for retirement and stop smoking as well as achieve all sorts of noble goals. This practice will build your ability to control your own impulses, much like exercise builds muscle overtime.
We have many common synonyms for willpower; these are determination, drive, resolve, self-discipline, self-control. According to most psychological scientists, willpower can be defined as:
- “Willpower is the ability to resist short-term gratification in pursuit of long-term goals or objectives.”
- “The capacity to override an unwanted thought, feeling or impulse.”
- “The ability to employ a “cool” cognitive system of behavior rather than a “hot” emotional system.”
- “Conscious, effortful regulation of the self by the self.”
Willpower is correlated with positive life outcomes such as better grades, higher self-esteem, lower abuse rates, greater financial security and improved physical and mental health.
However, Often people found their willpower had been depleted. But willpower can also be strengthened. Here are some steps one can follow to strengthen willpower.
Evaluate your habits:
If you are trying to improve your willpower, it’s likely that your lack of impulse control is adversely affecting some area of your life. Determine the area you would like to improve; if you have several different areas to improve, you may want to address one at a time.
For example, you might have difficulty with controlling your spending habits, but saving money will be easier if you set a goal to save that money for big or important items or events.
Set a long-term goal for change:
The first step towards self-improvement is setting a goal for change. Your goal should be clear, specific, and attainable. If a goal is too vague or not measurable, it will be difficult to determine whether you’ve met or made progress towards your goal.
A better goal would be “save 10% of every month’s salary,” “build up my savings account to 50,000” or “pay off my credit cards to a $0 balance.
Set shorter-term sub-goals:
One of the best ways to work towards a large goal is to set short-term goals along the way. Short-term goals should also be specific and measurable, and they should lead you towards your ultimate long-term goal.
If you are trying to save 50,000, you might make your first short-term goal(s) “save 5000 every month” “limit eating out to once or twice per month,” and/or “have weekly movie evening at home instead of at the movie theater.”
Keep the “big picture” in mind:
The best way to “train” yourself to have willpower is to be willing to sacrifice your desire for instant gratification for the sake of a long-term reward.
For example, if you are controlling your impulse spending, you can have something costly that you normally wouldn’t be able to save for as your final reward. For example, you may buy a new big-screen television or go on a relaxing trip to an island.
Give yourself mini-rewards for progress:
A motivation or reward system will not change your willpower in the long run, but it can help set you on the road to success. Because a big end reward can take a long time to get to, it can be effective to give yourself smaller “guidepost” rewards for progress.
If you are controlling impulsive spending, you might give yourself a reward for saving. For example, you may decide that for every 5000 you save, you get a reward and spend 500 on anything you want.
Find what works for you:
By using a notebook or just thinking about your success or setbacks with impulse control, find what works best for you. You may find that giving yourself weekly rewards helps; you may find that giving each day a written overview of your willpower helps. You might find that being alone is a trigger for your impulsive behavior or being with a certain person can act as a trigger.
Some barriers may come when you will follow these steps. For example,
Stress may be a barrier to progress:
Regardless of your specific goal, stress from work or life events has the potential to stop your progress. You may need to use techniques to reduce stress such as exercise, getting adequate sleep, and giving yourself down time.
Find ways to avoid temptation:
Sometimes the best way to resist temptation is to avoid it. This may mean to avoid people or environments that trigger your impulses. This may not be a long-term solution, but it can help you during particularly difficult times, or when you are first starting out.
If you try on your own to control your impulses and it doesn’t seem to be working, consider seeking therapy. A therapist can offer support and specific suggestions for behavior modification. She/he may also be able to determine whether an underlying issue is contributing to your impulsive behavior.
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