A few years back I entered a 6 mile race called the Jingle Bell Run with some of my fellow FBI agents. Within the first few yards they pulled away and left me behind. Desperate to keep my legs churning under me as fast as I could, I drew a bead on their quickly disappearing backs until they were so far ahead of me I could no longer see them.
And then, as we entered the last mile, a woman pushing a stroller sailed past me. The child sitting in the stroller weighed about 40 pounds—to add insult to injury.
I wish I could tell you this was a joke, but it wasn’t. I felt both defeated and humiliated. I watched as the woman’s back quickly disappeared into the crowd as well. By now, I was limping along with runners from the Shady Rest Retirement Community.
I thought about dropping out of the race altogether, but I willed myself to keep moving ahead even though I was gasping for breath and barely able to move.
The capacity to say “no” to the call of temptation and desire to quit is called willpower.
Willpower is the ability to find the energy, motivation, and enthusiasm to keep going even when you’re tired, anxious, and looking for a way out.
Here are 7 ways you can use willpower to get everything you want in life:
1. Keep Your Eye On The Big Picture
Make sure your goals and priorities are clear in your mind. You must be able to make the choice that matters when you run into difficulties and feel like giving up.
Willpower takes energy because you must use mental toughness to control your thoughts, emotions, and behavior.
2. Connect Your Activity To Your WHY
To activate your willpower, you must be able to remind yourself WHY it’s important for you to do something. When you have a purpose and are engaged in activities that are freighted with both value and meaning, you have the beginning of willpower because you are committed to your goal.
Dump the trivia because meaningless tasks do not activate willpower.
3. Pare Down Decisions
School uniforms are popular for a reason: they reduce the number of choices students have to make every morning. President Obama only wears blue or gray suits. He told Vanity Fair that he doesn’t want to make decisions about what he wears because he has so many other decisions to make.
Fewer decisions allow you to find the energy, motivation, and stamina to keep going even when you’re tired or anxious.
4. Train Your Brain
You can make the willpower centers of your brain more dense and better connected by meditating every day. Neuroscientists have found that meditation leads to better focus and self-control after just 3 hours of practice. MRI scans show increased neural connection in brain regions responsible for impulse control.
Don’t worry if you think you are “bad at meditation.” The act of constantly pushing away intrusive thoughts is precisely what trains the brain and strengthens willpower.
5. Defer Gratification
Success usually comes down to choosing the pain of discipline over the ease of compliance. So, if you want to succeed at something, at some point you will need to ignore doing easier things in favor of doing something harder.
Willpower is the ability to delay gratification, resisting short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.
6. Be Optimistic
When we increase our optimism, we increase our willpower to accomplish a task. When we mix optimism with willpower, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Studies have shown that if we raise our expectations of success, we find ways to overcome the temptations or obstacles that might pop up along the way.
Our ability to overcome an obstacle depends upon how likely we think we’ll be able to overcome it.
7. Change Your Mindset
People who think that willpower is limited are always on the lookout for signs of fatigue. But people who believe that willpower is not limited only dig deeper and find more resources.
Recent findings by Greg Walton and Carol Dweck fly in the face of what has been preached about willpower for years—that willpower is limited and that we need constant glucose boosts throughout the day.
If we have a growth mindset, we will work harder and dig deeper to find the willpower we need to overcome our obstacle or reach our goals. According to Walton and Dweck, willpower can indeed be quite limited—but only if you believe it is. When people believe that willpower is fixed and limited, their willpower is easily depleted.
But when people believe that willpower is self-renewing—that when you work hard, you’re energized to work more; that when you’ve resisted one temptation, you can better resist the next one—then people successfully exert more willpower. It turns out that willpower is in your head.
I’m glad I finished the Jingle Bell Run because every obstacle I work through makes the achievement that much more valuable. Giving up is often the easiest option in today’s world, but it’s important to think about how that choice may affect your life ten years from now.
Don’t live a life of regrets.
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