1. Have clear goals and focus on working towards them
“Willpower has to do with saying yes to the things that move us closer to our goals, and no to the things that don’t,” explains Lyndelle Palmer Clarke, personal growth expert and author of the Dailygreatness lifestyle journals. “Like a muscle, the more we exercise our power, the stronger it becomes.” So, the longer you steer clear of the things that prevent you from reaching your goal, the easier it gets. When you’re faced with temptation, keeping your positive goal in mind will help you to turn away.
2. Identify the reward and the consequence
“It’s important to remember that rewards tend to seem far more real when they are immediate,” says psychologist Anna Hamer. “If you are on a diet but are offered a piece of chocolate cake, the pay-off or reward is immediate pleasure, whereas negative consequences such as an afternoon energy slump, weight gain or sugar-fuelled anxiety all seem very distant, abstract and therefore less powerful.” To avoid falling into the trap of taking the short-term reward over the long-term consequence, Anna recommends doing whatever you need to in order to make the negative effects more real. “For example, you might write words such as ‘headache’, ‘exhaustion’, ‘bigger-size dress’ on a cue card and carry it with you, so that you can read it before deciding to accept the chocolate cake.” Think about how you felt the last time you gave in to temptation and remember that when you’re faced with a tempting situation again.
3. Change your routine
Poor lifestyle choices often begin unnoticed, then become routine. “Willpower is also about changing your habits so that you aren’t operating on autopilot,” Anna explains. “If you want to spend less time on your tablet, think about the sequence of events that lead up to reaching for it. If you normally get in from work, make dinner, flop on the sofa and switch on your tablet, try altering one step in the chain,” she suggests. “You might try having a shower after dinner, calling a friend or reading a magazine before reaching for your tablet. This will make your behaviour more mindful and remind you that screen time is not the only way to relax.”
4. Make conscious choices
This principle of not operating on autopilot and being aware of the consequences of giving in to temptation is part of making conscious choices. “Decide what you want and make every decision in every moment one that supports that outcome,” says Lyndelle. “If your goal is to be financially free, decide not to put that dress on your credit card. If you want to lose weight, say no to the cake.” Lyndelle also recommends keeping a journal as a way of keeping track of your choices and goals: “Journalling is a great way to become conscious of the choices you’re unconsciously making that are keeping you from having what you want,” she says. “We first need to understand why we sabotage ourselves before we can create new outcomes in life.”