Improving your health often requires change, and for many, this change begins with setting goals. You fuel your capacity to meet your goals by drawing on your supply of willpower, much like a gas tank.
If you think of willpower as a limited resource capable of being depleted, then it stands to reason that you can also replenish it.
1. Build on your strengths. Willpower can build on itself. Using willpower in one part of your life can help boost it in others. A study that found smokers who avoided sweets for two weeks were more successful at quitting smoking than those who performed tasks that didn’t require self-control.
Daily activities such as exercise and food-logging can strengthen your capacity for self-control and willpower. Choose a daily activity that requires you to practice self-discipline. Then think about your strongest attributes. If you build on your own strengths, resisting unhealthy impulses will become easier over time.
2. Find your motivation. One study found that people were able to exercise more self-control if they knew that their efforts would benefit others or earn money. For long-term success, focus on rewards, whether external or internal, that are meaningful to you, and foster a sense of enjoyment for the task at hand. What makes you want to get healthier? How can you make your healthy habits more enjoyable?
3. Prepare for temptation. We often attribute our failure to resist temptation to an empty willpower tank. But if we know our tanks are low, we can minimize choices and decisions that are likely to deplete our willpower.
If you’re heading to a party and trying to avoid alcohol, bring your own non-alcoholic drink. If you’re eating out at a restaurant, look up the menu ahead of time and pre-plan your meal. Ask the server for healthier modifications. By preparing ahead of time, the pressure of the moment won’t overtake your good intentions.
4. Set appropriate goals. Setting the right goals will help you create realistic and achievable expectations. Small, behavior-based (not outcome-based), approach-based (not avoid-based) goals help you stay committed and avoid frustration.
Small changes, implemented one at a time, tend to have the highest success rate. Focus on one habit, one week at a time. Instead of trying to completely change your entire diet, focus on one aspect of it. If desserts are your weakness, set a goal to eat a bowl of fruit after dinner. This goal focuses your behavior on actions you can do, instead of the things you can’t.
5. Reframe the situation. The next time you feel you’ve exhausted your willpower, ask yourself how you can reframe what willpower means to you. If you’re having trouble making it to spin class, remind yourself that every time you work on a challenging task, you become more capable of succeeding elsewhere. What successes have you already achieved and how can those provide you fuel to meet your goals?
Ricca Callis is a wellness coach at Beaufort Memorial LifeFit Wellness Center.