Chances are your new year’s resolutionhas something to do with cutting back – food, alcohol, sweets, time on the couch. While those ideas sound healthy and promising in theory, in practice, well, they can be a little more difficult.
If only we had a little more control (perhaps our theme song would be Janet Jackson’s 1986 classic song, “Control”). If only our willpower would last more than one measly day.
Well, just call us your Resolution Fairy Godmother, because we’ve got the answer to boosting your willpower so you can stick to your health pledges.
What’s the Deal with Self-Control
Self-control isn’t limited to whether or not you reach for your co-worker’s candy bowl each afternoon. “Research indicates that the average person spends three to four hours a day resisting desires,” Roy F. Baumeister, PhD, a social psychologist at Florida State University and co-author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, tells the American Psychological Association publication Monitor. “Plus, self-control is used for other things as well, such as controlling thoughts and emotions, regulating task performance and making decisions.”
And it turns out you don’t have an endless supply of self-control. By exerting too much too soon, you could be at risk for giving in to temptation later. For example, resisting an order of French toast for breakfast could deplete your self-control tank so you give in to a hamburger and fries for dinner.
Researchers have also learned that making decisions can use up your willpower. “We found the same energy that is used for self-control is also used for making decisions. After making decisions, people perform worse at self-control,” says Baumeister.
3 Ways to Boost Your Willpower
Lucky for you, there are ways to restore and strengthen self-control — and you can see results in under a month. “Quite a few studies in multiple labs have now shown that people can improve their self-control even as adults. As with a muscle, it gets stronger from regular exercise,” Baumeister explains.
So how should you do it? “Engaging in some extra self-control activities for a couple weeks produces improvement in self-control, even on tasks that have no relation to the exercise activities,” advises Baumeister.
Here are a few to get you started:
Sip lemonade. “Glucose is the chemical in the bloodstream that carries energy to the brain, muscles and other organs and systems. In simple terms, glucose is fuel for the brain,” says Baumeister. “Acts of self-control reduce blood glucose levels. Low levels of glucose predict poor performance on self-control tasks and tests. Replenishing glucose, even just with a glass of lemonade, improves self-control performance.”
Celebrate opposite day. That means use your non-dominant hand to brush your teeth or dial the phone.
Manage your finances. Here you get a double benefit: a better balanced budget and a daily practice of self-control.
No matter what you do, though, remember to push against your comfort levels on an on-going basis. “The important thing is to practice overriding habitual ways of doing things and exerting deliberate control over your actions,” according to Baumeister. “Over time, that practice improves self-control.”