How to Exercise Will Power

Two Parts:Practicing Mental and Physical WillpowerSupporting Your Success

Exercising willpower is an important part of meeting many goals. Luckily, it can be strengthened over time.[1] Through a combination of mental and physical exercises, you can practice good self-control and positive thinking. By paying attention to your motivations and the progress you make, you can then improve your willpower in a lasting way.

Part 1
Practicing Mental and Physical Willpower

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    Resist short-term temptations.[2] Willpower must be exercised in order to not give in to all sorts of small temptations that face us everyday. If you practice resisting these small temptations, you will lay the foundations for greater willpower in other areas of your life. For instance:
    • Don’t buy an item that you want on impulse yet don’t really need, such as a coffee, CD, or new shirt. Instead, save your money.
    • Put snacks away in a drawer or cabinet instead of leaving them in plain sight.
    • Go for a brief walk instead of checking your email or social media accounts.
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    Create “if-then” plans. Knowing ahead of time what you will do in a situation to avoid temptation or to practice willpower can help you succeed. When faced with such situations, commit to “if-then” statements. For instance:
    • If you are trying to avoid junk food: “If I go to the grocery store and I can’t stop looking at unhealthy snacks, then I’ll pick up a box of whole-grain cereal instead.”
    • If you are trying to avoid drinking alcohol: “If someone offers me a drink, then I’ll just ask for a soda.”
    • If you are trying to control your temper: “If I start to feel mad, then I’ll immediately close my eyes, take a deep breath, and count to ten to calm down.”
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    Delay gratification..Giving into desires can be pleasurable in the short run, but sometimes holding off on things can increase your overall sense of willpower and satisfaction. There are numerous ways to practice delaying gratification everyday, such as:
    • Taking a shower that is cold at first, and only allowing yourself warm water after a few minutes.
    • Waiting 5 minutes before you eat, even when you are hungry.
    • Fasting for a day (only attempt this if you are healthy enough, and talk with a doctor beforehand).
    • Only allowing yourself to make a desired purchase after a certain period of time, such as a week (this also gives you time to determine if it is something you really want).
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    Pay attention to your body. Research shows that periodically paying even brief attention to your posture, breathing, etc. can boost your willpower and mood.[3]Simple exercises to accomplish this include:
    • Reminding yourself to sit up straight
    • Pausing to take a few deep breaths every so often
    • Getting up from your desk or couch for a 5 minute break every hour
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    Push yourself physically. Getting exercise is good for your physical health as well as your sense of self-control.[4] By taking charge of your body, you will increase your willpower in other areas of life. Focus on creating a plan for physical conditioning that suits your lifestyle and abilities. Don’t be afraid to start out small, and remember that any improvement you can make is worthwhile. The important thing is to stick to your plan. Depending on your experience, try:
    • Taking a 10 minute walk everyday, then increasing it to 30 minutes or more.
    • Creating an exercise routine, whether indoor or outdoor.
    • Playing a favorite sport with friends one or more times a week.
    • Training for a 5k, marathon, etc.
    • Biking to work each day instead of taking a car or public transportation.
    • Climbing a mountain.
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    Reject or replace unwanted thoughts. In addition to physical exercises, you can increase your willpower through mental conditioning. Most importantly, focus on banishing thoughts that bring you down. By practicing self-control in this way, you will feel more in charge of how you feel and think.
    • You can change negative thoughts into more positive ones. For instance, if you are tempted to think “I’ve never done this before, and don’t know what to do,” recast the situation more positively by thinking “This is an opportunity for me to learn something new.”
    • Avoid particular people, places, situations, media, and other elements of your life that tend to cause you to have negative thoughts.
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    Meditate.The simple practice of meditation can dramatically increase your sense of self-awareness, boost your mood and health, and reduce stress. If you get in the habit of meditating periodically, even for 5 minutes at a time, you will practice willpower both by sticking to a goal and by deepening your sense of self. Various types of meditation include:
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    Focus on virtues. As part of your overall goal of utilizing your willpower, you may want to devote some attention to virtues, such as showing compassion for other beings, being a good friend, practicing patience and honesty, etc. Research suggests that willpower and virtues are related, so do things like:[5]
    • Practicing a random act of kindness each day, such as offering a seat on the bus to someone else, anonymously paying for a stranger’s lunch, or giving a compliment to someone in need.
    • Devoting at least one hour a week to helping another person in some non-required way.
    • Volunteering with a community organization.
    • Showing patience with family, friends, coworkers, etc. by resisting the urge to be judgmental.

Part 2
Supporting Your Success

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    Establish your motivation. Knowing your reasons for wanting to change increases the chance that you will be successful at meeting your goal. If you want to practice willpower, try to determine and understand why, no matter if the cause is very specific or very general. Diverse examples include:
    • You want to get to work on time.
    • You want to stop smoking.
    • You want to be kinder to others.
    • You want to be more active.
    • You want to be more successful.
    • You want to get in touch with your spiritual side.
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    Focus on one goal at a time.Increasing your self-control in any aspect of your life can have a positive effect on your willpower in general. However, you are more likely to succeed at practicing and improving your willpower if you focus on one goal at a time. Prioritize your goals and determine substeps to decide where to begin. For instance:
    • Suppose you have an overall goal of being more successful in life, and you have decided that being better at your job is the place to start.
    • You have been chronically late to work, and determine that getting to work on time is the first step you should take.
    • Focus on exercising willpower by waking up early so that you get to work on time.
    • Don’t move on to another goal until you have accomplished this first step successfully.
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    Monitor your behavior. It is important to keep track of your progress as you seek to practice willpower. That way, you can tell if you are on your way to success, and whether or not you need to make any adjustments to improve.
    • If you are trying to get to work on time, for instance, keep a log each day that records when you go to bed and when you wake up. Notice if you are making improvement or need to make changes. For example, if you notice you are waking up on time everyday except for Mondays, focus renewed willpower on fixing that.
    • There are several websites, apps, and programs that can help you monitor your progress as you seek to achieve goals. However, be careful not to over-monitor yourself or get caught up in using one of these aids, as it can become distracting and reduce your willpower.
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    Reward yourself.It is perfectly ok and beneficial to reward yourself occasionally for meeting your goals and practicing your willpower. Give yourself a treat when you are successful—just make sure that increasing your willpower is the real goal, not the short-term reward.
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    Get plenty of sleep. Being well-rested is very important if you want to successfully practice and improve your willpower. If you are mentally or physically exhausted, your chances of success are reduced. Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep a night, so set an appropriate goal.

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Categories: Personal Development | Thinking Skills