Easy Ways to Increase Willpower
How many times have you wished you had more willpower to make healthier choices? Like keeping your hands out of the bread basket, not having that 3rd glass of wine or going to the gym after work? You’ve probably berated yourself for a lack of willpower a million times. But is it really a lack of willpower? Experts say NO and refer to it instead as decision fatigue. The good news is that are strategies to combat decision fatigue and get you on the way to making healthier choices.
Think of will power as a muscle. If you use it up too early in the day, your strength will be gone by the end of the day. Kind of like if you lift a heavy weight numerous times, eventually your muscles get fatigued and you can’t lift it anymore. Now compare this to what your brain has to do everyday. You constantly make decisions from the minute you wake up until you fall asleep. What to wear, what to eat for breakfast, how to handle your difficult co-worker, which emails to deal with, what to eat for lunch, etc. Our brains are in overdrive mode making decisions. These small daily decisions impact the willpower you have for important choices. Decision fatigue sets in later in the day. This can be mistaken for lack of willpower.
Study demonstrating decision fatigue
Studies demonstrate decision fatigue plays a role in our actions. In this study published by the National Academy of Sciences, psychologists examined the factors that impact whether or not a judge approves a criminal for parole. They found that the time of day affected the judge’s ruling. At the beginning of the day, a judge was likely to give a favorable ruling about 65 percent of the time. However, as the morning wore on and the judge became drained from making more and more decisions, the likelihood of a criminal getting a favorable ruling steadily dropped to zero. After a lunch break (was it due to eating or taking a break?), it jumped back up to 65% and then dropped down again to zero by the end of the day. The judges were likely suffering from decision fatigue.
Do you have decision fatigue?
How many times have you come home after a long day and felt totally exhausted mentally? Maybe you wanted to cook a healthy dinner or take a spin class after work, but your brain could not handle one more important decision. So you go into default mode – and head for the couch and your phone to order seamless. Here’s my embarrassing example of decision fatigue – after an extremely mentally exhausting day, I head for the couch to watch Housewives (yikes!) on Bravo + eat Skinny Pop for dinner. My brain doesn’t even have the energy to look for something else on tv … forget about cooking!
Tips to combat decision fatigue (and improve willpower)
It’s highly unlikely that your life will change and you’ll no longer have to make numerous decisions. But you can change the types and amount of decisions you make which can have a positive impact on willpower. These tips were taken from James Clear.
- Plan daily decisions the night before. Chances are that you have numerous mundane
decisions that you make over and over each day. For many of us, these are the ones that are sapping our mental energy to make more important decisions later on. Who wants to waste precious willpower on these choices that could be automated or planned in advance? Take time in advance to plan out and simplify the daily decisions that you’ll need to make for the following day. This can include:
-Plan your workouts. Sign up for an exercise class or put it into your schedule
-Pack your gym clothes to take to work with you.
-Plan what you’ll wear to work
-Plan what you’ll have for dinner the next night (or better yet, make a plan for the week on a Sunday)
-Find a few healthy local take out spots and highlight what you will order if you NEED to order out
- Do the most important things early in the day. Not that we are dealing with felons on a daily basis, but you can use the research from the above study to learn the best time of the day to tackle what’s most important to you – whether it’s exercising, working on a project, or meal planning. Based on the results of the research, tackle it earlier in the day as this is when you have the most attention, energy, and focus. Of course everyone is different … I’m sure there are some night owls in the group.
- Take a break mid-day … and eat something. Based on the above experiment, if you have to make important decisions later in the day, take a little break and eat something (and I don’t mean to eating a massive hero at your desk while working like this guy!) This break stops the decision fatigue and recharge your brain (and willpower).
- Stop making decisions and start scheduling. Of course, you’re never going to have to stop making decisions, but why not schedule some things into your life so you don’t have to make a decision about it every day? Rather than saying …
– “I want to exercise more” and thinking about it numerous time every day, schedule it into your week. Plot out exactly when/where/and what you will do. That will take away the decision for that day
– “I want to lose weight or eat healthier”. As per Brian Wansink, PhD, we make about 200 food related decisions a day. Yikes! This is using up a lot of willpower. Make some of those choices automated. Place a Fresh Direct food order once a week, write a grocery list and plan when you will go (and not when you are hungry), find 4 healthy lunch options near your office, keep healthy snacks in your bag.
- Simply (eliminate some things) Find ways to simplify your life. If something isn’t important to you, get rid of it! Making decisions about things in your life that aren’t important still drains you. So the more you can get rid of, the better. And this include people who add nothing positive to your life.
Willpower isn’t something you have or lack. It rises and falls during the day. Think of it like a muscle. It can only be exerted a finite amount each day. As per Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, says, “If you want to do something that requires willpower—like going for a run after work—you have to conserve your willpower muscle during the day.”
Decision fatigue likely plays an important role in willpower. Try some strategies to cut back on the less important decisions you have to make to make during the day to help you to make the most of the important decisions you need to make later on. This is just one more tactic to put in your tool box to help you meet your goals.
One more thing – doesn’t “I’m suffering from decision fatigue” sound a lot better than “I have no will power”?
I especially love problem-solving, whether it’s helping women defeat issues plaguing them for years, helping a busy executive find practical ways to get heart healthy, or providing tips to help you reverse diabetes. That’s why I’m on a constant quest to expand my knowledge by staying on top of the latest research.