As the new year approaches, it is a great time to set new goals. We all know what we should be doing (e.g. eating healthy, exercising, avoiding drugs and alcohol), however it is often the case that these things are easier said than done. Many of us have difficulty accomplishing our goals because we lack the willpower. Willpower is “the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals” (American Psychological Association [APA], 2014). The good news is that people can train their willpower to resist these temptations. Research shows that willpower is best used in moderation. For example, repeatedly resisting temptation will deplete willpower, while not using willpower at all will result in static behaviors and unmet goals. Strengthening our willpower will allow us to meet our goals!
According to the American Psychological Association these are some things you can do to increase your willpower/self-control:
Focus on one goal at a time: It is more effective to clearly define one goal and work toward achieving this goal rather than working on a list of goals. For example, a clearly defined goal might be preparing a healthy breakfast that includes fruit three times a week.
Avoid temptations: One way to avoid temptations is to keep them out of your house or out of sight (e.g. don’t buy the cookies, or if you do buy them, keep them in a cabinet to reduce temptation).
Make a plan: Having a well thought out plan in place allows people to avoid temptations without having to use willpower. For example, before heading out to a holiday party, plan for instances in which others may ask you to have an alcoholic drink. Make a plan to drink soda instead of alcohol before going to the party.
Monitor behavior: Recording our behaviors makes us more aware and increases our ability to change behavior.
Reward yourself: When you have successes, and reach milestones on the way to your end goal, reward yourself. Use rewards that are in line with your goal. For example, if the goal is to spend less time on your smartphone, don’t reward yourself with surfing the internet on your phone for an hour. Instead, you may want to reward yourself with an hour hike outside with friends or any other activity that does not conflict with the change you are trying to make.
Get adequate sleep: When you don’t get enough sleep, your willpower won’t be as strong and will leave you vulnerable to temptations.
Seek support: Having a support system will increase your ability to achieve your goals. If getting more exercise is the goal, find a friend to go for a run with.
American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Harnessing willpower to meet your goals.http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/willpower-fact-sheet
Author: Brianna Bliss, M.S.