Discipline & Willpower: 3 Scientifically Backed Steps to Form Healthy Habits
21 February 2017
You might be one of those people who has a fatalistic view of discipline and willpower. Either it’s in your genes or your parents molded it into you at a young age, but whatever it is, you’re stuck in your ways and none of your unwanted habits can be changed.
You sit down around December 31st every year and think of a laundry list of ways you think you can improve, try to cram it all in your schedule for the next few weeks- eating healthier, working out more, drinking less, being more restrained, just to have it all fizzle out after some too-small amount of time.
That brings us to step #1 about willpower…
- Willpower is not an unlimited resource, conserve it– Study after study has shown that exercising a lot of willpower in one moment depletes our ability to remain focused and disciplined afterwards. In a study with college students, just having to say no to a bowl of cookies drastically affected their ability to remain focused or even care about completing a challenging test afterwards.
Knowing this, you can actively try to mitigate frivolous uses of willpower throughout your day- putting food in cupboards where you can’t see them and be easily as tempted, for example.
Though step #1 might be a bit disheartening, things get better with #2.
- Practice willpower in one area, it will spillover to others- Remember that laundry list of habits you want to change? Scrap all of them, except one. Research has shown that when exercising willpower in one area of life, you tend to automatically, without thinking, start to utilize willpower in other areas.
Start that workout routine, even if that means sticking to it only a couple times a week, and you may find yourself just naturally eating healthier, drinking less, etc. Practicing meditation has also been linked with increased self-control.
Often times when people start new habits, it’s smooth sailing for a few days or weeks, and then something happens in life and it throws them off and just like that, they’re back to their old habits, like the new ones never existed. How do you prevent that from happening?
- Your willpower will have a downfall, be prepared-It’s inevitable. Sometimes life will throw you a curveball and you won’t see it coming. You could get a flat tire and it’ll throw your day off and all of those hard-earned habits will break down. But more likely there will be predictable events that you can foresee tripping you up. Write those down. Write out how perhaps a longer than usual day at work would make you feel hungry and tired and likely to skip working out afterwards. Then figure out how you could combat that- working out at lunch instead, or eating a healthy snack once the hunger starts to hit. Be very prepared to combat the things you know will stand in your way.
Realize that willpower is a learnable skill and it’s just a muscle that needs to be exercised. Your bad habits are not set in stone, and to have wide-ranging effects on various aspects of your life, you should start small and focus on one thing and you will naturally build up discipline and willpower.
For more information:
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg