How To Make Your Willpower Stronger And More Effective

Here’s the thing: your willpower isn’t something you’re born with, and it isn’t an infinite resource – it runs out, but you can train yourself to get better at using it before that happens…

Ever wondered what life would be like if you had 50% more drive? Scrap that – how about 10%? With just a smidgen more purpose in your gut, you could be the go-getter you always wanted to be, finally mastering that guitar solo, winning that big promotion and getting that novel finished. It’s not out of reach. According to many experts, this drive to succeed is a finite source we create within ourselves, rather than a natural one: ‘Willpower isn’t something you’re born with,’ weighs in Dr Ron Breazeale, a US clinical psychologist specialising in resilience training, ‘It’s something you develop, create and move forward with.’ With the help of Breazeale, RISING reveals how to carpe the hell out of that diem.

Listen To Your Inner Dialogue
Unless Morgan Freeman has been following you around 24/7, narrating your innermost thoughts, you may never have properly stopped to listen to your internal dialogue. It’s talking to you, right now in fact, and if you want to tame your willpower then you’d better start tuning in: ‘We carry internal dialogue everywhere we go, sometimes negative, sometimes positive,’ says Breazeale. ‘By tapping into this, we can learn a lot – what predictions we’re making, how we may react to a certain situation, what we’re afraid of – and the more intently you listen to yourself, the more you can change the dialogue in your favour.’

‘Self-confidence gives you confidence to perform and it buffers against anxiety’

Prime Your Raw Materials
Everyone and their mum knows how good nutrition boosts your output – ‘Drinking a good amount of water and eating healthy will indeed boost cognitive function,’ says Breazeale – but did you know that being content with your path in life can have a significant impact on levels of determination? The Doc explains: ‘I meet many people lacking willpower who are uncertain of their path in life. It’s a major issue for people, increasingly so. Here in the US, for example, I have patients who work in a job they have no passion for because of the health insurance benefits and financials. It locks people into roles they never wanted and somewhere along the way they hit an emotional wall. Money’s a big emotional crux as well. Once you can come to peace of mind with your goals and work satisfaction, your mind frees up to focus more on challenges.’

Learn To Rate Yourself
Short of speaking about yourself in third person, developing a bit of an ego will do your resolve no harm at all, according to Breazeale: ‘Self-confidence is a major part of willpower. Firstly, it gives you confidence to perform a task or take risks. Secondly, it’s also one of the best buffers against anxiety. To feel good about yourself, to appreciate oneself; this eventually breeds optimism and clears mental blocks.’

Flip The Script On Pessimism
So, what kind of people are most likely to lack willpower? Breazeale points to Dr Martin Seligman, a psychologist who’s written lots on ‘learned optimism’, AKA the idea that people can learn to take the rough with the smooth: ‘Optimists tend to be a lot more into thinking about events having a specific impact, good or bad. Pessimists, on the other hand, are a lot more likely to think that if something good happens, well, it’s going to change everything, it’s going to make everything better; and if something bad happens then, for them, it’s all over. It might be easier said than done but one way of building willpower is to focus on becoming more open to positive thoughts, thinking positively ahead of big situations.’

Avoid The Blame Game
‘Pessimists are also more likely to blame themselves or someone else for when a situation goes wrong,’ adds Breazeale. ‘Unfortunately, we live in a society where we’re encouraged to blame. Just watch the nightly news for proof of that. Optimists are more likely to hold people accountable, which is blaming but without the emotion. Blame just gets in the way, it takes the energy and passion away, and if you blame yourself or others for things that go wrong all the time you’re not going to have much will to move things forward.’

‘People get caught up in trying to resolve a problem by trying harder’

Channel Your Inner Yoda
Downward dog, anyone? Much as it may seem like defeating the point, if Breazeale is right, some relaxation time might be all that’s standing between you and seizing the day: ‘I frequently ask people to do meditation for willpower and resilience. One of its benefits is managing stress and learning how to be flexible of mind. People get caught up in trying to resolve a problem by trying harder – that’s human nature – but problem solving can require trying different ways, and that’s very hard for people. They have to be mentally flexible to do that.’

Harness Some Hilarity
Humour, believe it or not, can be your ace in the hole when it comes to bending willpower in whatever direction you like, reveals Breazeale. ‘Back in the 60s, political writer Norman Cousins developed a rare illness and was given a few weeks to live. He later swore that he survived not because of the treatment but because he watched Marx Brothers films, with ten minutes of belly laughing per day acting like an anaesthetic. Being able to step back and laugh at yourself can act as a valve to release stress – and by taking away stress you will build up resilience, and strengthen willpower. People take themselves way too seriously in modern life as it is. For many years I’ve worked with police and with medical staff in emergency rooms, and there’s gallows humour; it’s survival humour, being able to get through a really bad time.’

WHAT NEXT? We’re all more likely to waste our willpower when we’re tried, stressed or stuck in a rut. If this sounds familiar, Breazeale suggests finding a mentor: ‘Whether it’s a professional life coach or simply a person who’s successful in an area of life you want to be, a mentor will help you to set goals and build your confidence.’