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Exercise your Willpower

by Beth on April 16th, 2012

Willpower increases the likelihood that we achieve our goals. It takes willpower to go to the gym. It takes self-control not to eat the donut in the conference room. Willpower keeps us focused on studying for the test instead of surfing the internet. We need it to make difficult choices at work.

In their book on willpower, Baumeister and Tierney explain that willpower is like a muscle. It can be weakened from use, but it can also be strengthened by regularly exercising it.

Depleted willpower

In one study hungry students who were asked to resist eating chocolate chip cookies later performed worse on a test than students who had not had to resist the temptation to eat the cookies. Having to exercise self-control depleted their willpower to focus. You might notice sometimes at the end of a long day you have a shorter temper or small things bother you more. That’s because your impulse control has become weakened with use. This is why it’s better to make important decisions early in the day. It is also why I go to the gym first thing in the morning. I have learned that if I wait until later in the day I always find some excuse not to go because my self-control isn’t as strong.

Strengthening willpower

In another study students were asked to pay attention to their posture, making sure they weren’t slouching, for a week. At the end of the week they performed better on a self-control task than students who hadn’t been trying to control their posture all week. By exercising their willpower muscle it had become stronger. You can exercise your self-control by doing something you really don’t want to do. Give up eating sweets, do 50 sit-ups every morning, only check your email a few times a day, stop going to Starbucks, or turn off the TV and go to bed early. The more you practice resisting temptations the stronger your willpower will become and the more likely you will be to achieve your goals.

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