What is Willpower & How do we use it?

Updated: Dec 2, 2021

6 Tips to Support your Willpower

· Exercise – Regular exercise helps to build a steady heart rate which in turn helps to develop and strengthen willpower, it also lowers stress and encourages self-awareness

· Meditation – By meditating for 10 minutes a day the grey brain matter is developed in our prefrontal cortex and this supports our decision making and planning. Meditating also helps us to slow our breathing down.

· Breathing - Inhale for 4, then exhale for 6, continue this until you feel calm. This allows for the increased heart rate variability to occur. This is where the heart is beating at a steady pace and is aligning the whole body in a calm mode. Supporting us in a more relaxed state, provides time to ‘pause and plan’ rather than react.

· 7-9 hours of sleep – A goodnights sleep allows for the brain to be rested and refuelled as willpower uses a lot of blood glucose in the prefrontal cortex, where planning, organising, and thinking take place.

· Eating well – We need to eat quality foods high in nutrients to provide the brain with the energy it requires to fulfil our goals and keep us on track

· Self- awareness – This is the first step to ensuring your willpower is on track. By making conscious decisions about the food, clothes, and behaviours you are going to display you will keep focused on the end game, rather than the haphazard reactions that are usually made on autopilot.

. Planning & Preparation - The things that you have to do every day, like getting dressed, making lunch, cooking dinner or activities like walking the dog and changing the bed sheets. Give yourself a plan and prepare in advance. Then you don't have to have the internal battle you have your clothes ready, dog walk is at 5pm, bed sheets change on a Wednesday and dinners are planned for the week. You can get on and do these things. Delegate the decisions and bring the family together to help with the these 2Ps in your household!

Do you find that your willpower comes and goes?

This can be due to the constant chatter of your children and their individual needs?

Organising the weekly dinners, let alone thinking about celebrations or the festive season?

Always having to be able to 'think outside the box' when all you want to do is crawl inside the box with a blanket, your iPad and a box of chocolates!

Do you want to focus on your goals and achieve all that you want to in life?

Willpower – determination, resolve, drive, self-control, strength

Willpower is the internal conflict of the mind and body, when we want something but know that we shouldn’t have it, for example the slice of cake because we are on a diet or a cigarette when we are wanting to stop smoking or another glass of wine.

When faced with temptation we often go down the self-criticism route. This leads us to consume more of our forbidden fruit, often on autopilot, with barely a moment’s notice as to what we are doing and then we compound this with feelings of shame and guilt. The situation becomes a vicious cycle.

I know because I have done it! I've eaten the extra chocolate bar or indulged in that glass of wine that was calling to me from the fridge and then felt angry, annoyed and upset with myself.

When life gets stressful we tend to want more of the things that make us feel good. For some people that can be going for a run for me it's cake and chocolate!

What takes away our willpower?

Our willpower goes down every day and we can compared it to the battery on our phone, fully charged in the morning, and fading away as the day moves forward.

Planning and making choices in advance helps us to circumnavigate some of our willpower loss. Choosing what you want to wear the day before, making and preparing lunches for the next day, packing bags, and organising a dinner schedule for the week can also help us. With these decisions made we can sail through certain parts of our day with an extra bit of will power for the more trying times.

Bringing up a family I often find the mornings and evenings are where I need to have my wits about me! So, getting into the habit of choosing my clothes the night before is a must for me!

Yes, I am that boring!!

I have my dog walking set on a hanger on the inside of a door and my daily ones on the back of the bathroom door. It makes life so much easier! Even down to my socks and underwear!!!

Now what you choose to do in advance is up to you but finding your groove and the things that let you glide through the possible tough times can really help you resist that cake or extra glass of wine later.

We've touched on some of the things that really whittle away at our will power, so lets explain how they do that in more detail.

· Stress – This is when the body is overrun with adrenaline and cortisol, the fight, flight, and freeze pattern is released. This stops the brain from making decisions and works from the survival mode where short term goals and instant gratification are a priority.

· Self-criticism, guilt & shame – If we make a mistake neuroscientist have now been able to see that all these self-critical behaviours only encourage more of the negative behaviour. If instead we said, ‘it’s ok to make a mistake, this is the process we go through with change,’ then we would be more likely to not make the same mistake again.

· Temptation – The chocolate cake on the table or the friend offering you a cigarette are all difficult to resist as we have this mind, body battle going on.

Our ancestors and willpower

As humans we have always had willpower and we can take this back to the caveman times when we lived in tribes. Living in this safe community was great for our survival, hunting, shelter, and company but we willpower for self-control, to stop us taking things from other people just because we wanted them.

Our inbuilt survival system was often on high alert during our cavemen days due to the threats that were all around us and its job was to jump in to save us.

So, let's imagine for a moment that you go to your front door now and when you open it there’s a polar bear! You would immediately go to your primitive mind, where the primitive survival instincts would take effect, the fight or flight response would kick in. Your heart rate would go up, hands would get sweaty, stomach would churn, and you would probably run and hide.

This reaction is great if it’s a polar bear but not when it’s the stresses of a day at work, kids running late, car needs fuel, getting cut up on the road and so many of the other scenarios of our everyday lives.

The problem with all this stress is that it robs us of our ability to be rational and goal focused. It drains our willpower and this is when we reach for a sweet treat or cigarette.

How do we stay in control and focus on our goals?

We need to develop strategies and find ways to plan parts of our lives without becoming obsessive! Just because you have a weekly dinner plan you can change a meal, order in pizza or go out.

Like my clothes sorting night before, not so crazy now! getting the kids to pack their school bags, get the breakfast bowls and cereal out, make lunches, organise the dinner schedule and so on.

Kelly McGonigal explains in her book ‘The Willpower Instinct’ how we can train our brain to choose willpower through the “pause and plan” response rather than the “fight or flight”.

It’s all about recognising when we are hitting that primitive response of fight or flight, often a sense of feeling overwhelmed. We start going down the rabbit hole of anxiety or anger and our breathing speeds up, we feel our body start to react too.

It’s about learning to do the opposite.

Stop and breath, we need to remember to breath! We we breath shallowly, quickly or not at all we become more tense, anxious and dizzy. We want to relax, take slow deep breaths and focus just on slowing down.

This is not something that’s going to happen over night and it needs time and practice just like any thing that we want to be better at in life, we have to practice it many times for it to become a habit.

It's ok if it doesn’t always work, remember that when we are self-critical or feel guilty, we are only perpetuating a negative cycle.

“We are humans and change can be hard, we make mistakes and that’s ok”.

Check out the best ways to build on your willpower and remember to practice the ones that resonate with you so you can avoid temptation and reach your own personal goals.

I've included two videos to help you understand more about our willpower and what you can do to help yourself.

If you want to have a chat please contact me via email sue@suesolutionshypnotherapy.co.uk and we will arrange a time for a call.

You can also come and join my Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/819387741971980 For Manic Mum's & Desperate Dad's and find support, tips and helpful hints, as well as a laugh or two.

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