19 Ways How To Increase Willpower

By: Nicola Kirkpatrick

Updated February 13, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Chante’ Gamby, LCSW

Many people struggle with having enough willpower. Willpower is needed to keep from overspending money, eating too much or too little, keep going on a difficult project, or say no to someone you are used to saying yes to. There are many other ways as well in which we use willpower to control ourselves and our actions.

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There have been many research studies done over the years about willpower, and what makes us tick when it comes to having the ability to stick to our guns. It is frequently described as a two-system framework comprised of cold and hot tendencies. The hot tendencies are your ego and emotions dictating what you want. The cold system is the things that you do to counteract emotion and cool off the desire for whatever it is you are trying to avoid.

Willpower, like other muscles in your body, needs to be frequently exercisedto be there when we need it most. You can learn how to increase willpower by practicing using your willpower in different situations. When you use willpower on a daily basis, it becomes easier to have it when you need it for dieting, cutting back on spending, ridding yourself of a bad habit, or setting boundaries.

Raise Your Glucose Level

One research study done in 2007 set forth that glucose levels directly affect willpower. The study showed that when glucose levels were low, subjects had little to no willpower. However, when they were given a glucose drink, they were able to increase their willpower and resist temptation.

If you are finding that you are in a situation where your willpower is failing, think about the last time you ate and what you ate. If your glucose levels might be low, eat a piece of candy or fruit to give yourself a glucose boost. This is something you can do immediately as needed to increase willpower.

Purposeful Self-Distraction

Another tool you can use in the heat of the moment is purposeful self-distraction. Quite simply, you think about or do something that is completely unrelated to the thing that you are trying to avoid doing.

You can shift your focus by changing tasks, doing a quick meditation or visualization exercise, or immersing yourself in a distraction such as music or videos. Studies have shown that purposeful self-distraction is one of the most effective ways to increase willpower in the heat of the moment.

One effective way to use this technique and learn how to increase willpower is to have a thought that you will use whenever you think of the thing you are trying to avoid doing. For example, if you are trying to refrain from candy, every time you think of candy replace the thought with thoughts of the cute clothes you will buy when you lose weight.

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Self-distraction is difficult because it is natural for the mind to focus on what you most don't want to think about. Tell yourself not to think about a white bear, and you will undoubtedly think of a white bear. But with practice and by building a habit, you can make yourself think of a black bear instead.

Cognitive Reframing Operations

Cognitive reframing has been used in nursing and psychology for many years, although definitions vary. One of the most popular definitions is from Walker and Avant, as outlined by one study on the subject. The basis is that you change the way you think and believe about concepts and things that you are trying to change in your life, to establish self-control and well-being.

There are several parts of cognitive reframing. First, you must alter your perceptions of your beliefs that are keeping you from having the self-control. For example, if you are dieting, you need to alter your perception to eliminate the self-defeating belief that you will always be overweight.

Second, you must convert negative thoughts into positive ideas. Anytime you think negatively about yourself or what you are trying to accomplish; you must consciously turn it into a positive thought or idea to replace the negative. Through the practice of these two parts of cognitive reframing, you will ultimately gain personal control, the final piece of the puzzle.

If you have extreme difficulty in achieving cognitive reframing on your own, you might consider getting the help of a therapist. Most psychologists and counselors are familiar with cognitive reframing and can help you train your mind to benefit from this technique of how to increase willpower.

Images Of Goals

Studies have also shown that having images of your goals can help you increase willpower. If your goal isn't something tangible, come up with images that you can associate with the goal. For example, if you are trying to lose weight, you would have pictures of models of the size that you are aiming for or clothes that you want to buy.

If you are trying to quit smoking, you could have a picture of clean lungs or images of dollar signs and money representing all the money you will save not buying cigarettes. If you are trying to control your spending, place an image of something you're saving up for in your wallet, so you have to look at it every time you reach for your cash or credit cards. This technique could be used for many other goals as well.

Mini-Meditation Sessions

Meditation can greatly benefit you in learning how to increase willpower. First, mini-meditations can help you overcome cravings and urges to go against your willpower and your goals. Just 10 minutes of meditation can decrease stress and take your mind off of what you want to do but shouldn't.

Second, meditation is a great tool for exercising willpower and increasing it over time. It takes a great amount of control to be able to clear your mind and resist the urge to wander. Meditation on a daily basis can help build your willpower over time and reduce stress levels considerably.

Change Your Posture

One way to exercise your willpower as a muscle is to change your posture consciously. If you have poor posture naturally, exercising willpower to change the way you sit and stand is a good exercise. Over time you will find that it becomes easier and easier to sit or stand properly, and your willpower in other matters will come easier as well.

Keep A Food Or Spending Diary

Most people do not think about what they eat or where they spend their money. Even if these are not goals that you are currently working on, you can use keeping a food or spending diary as a means to increase your willpower. You have to have self-control and determination to continue writing down every dime you spend or calorie you eat. The longer you keep it up, the stronger your willpower will become.

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Use Your Opposite Hand

You can also work the muscle of willpower by using your opposite hand. For some people, this is nearly impossible, as the dominant hand is so well trained that using the opposite hand is simply unnatural.

However, if you can force yourself to use your opposite hand for a blocked period or certain tasks, it will greatly exercise your willpower. Using your opposite hand when it's unnecessary takes determination and willpower, which builds over time.

Change Your Speech

Changing your speech is another way to build up your willpower muscles. You can focus on improving your grammar, avoiding slang, or avoiding cursing. The change in your speech is unimportant.

The importance of this exercise is to do it and stick to it simply. Decide how you will change your speech and force yourself to make those changes. You can start with small blocks of the day and then increase until you are speaking all the time differently.

Create Self-Imposed Deadlines

Remember in college when you had to cram for a test or bang out a research paper in a day or two? Having those hard deadlines forces you to do things immediately or suffer the consequences. You can use deadlines to increase willpower.

Simply start setting deadlines for yourself. You can set small deadlines, such as completing a task within a certain amount of time, trying to beat the clock. Or you can set deadlines for larger goals. For the willpower exercise to work, it is best if you start out with deadlines that are very close to the future, such as minutes or hours.

Squeeze A Handgrip

Squeezing a handgrip for longer than a few repetitions takes tremendous willpower. Handgrips are very stiff and designed to increase your grip strength. Your hand will tire very quickly, especially when you first start using it.

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Since you aren't doing this to meet any goals, the urge to give up quickly will be strong. Exercise your willpower muscles by keeping it going for at least ten minutes and increase the time as you go on.

Tempt Yourself Wisely

Tempting yourself is another way to build your willpower. However, you want to be careful in how you do so. If you tempt yourself too much without a plan, you will give in,and the exercise will not work. It is best if you tempt yourself with something that is easier to avoid, rather than something that you are working toward a goal.

For example, if you are trying to quit smoking, you could tempt yourself by carrying candy around all day and tell yourself not to eat it. That would exercise your willpower without tempting yourself with a pack of cigarettes that, if your willpower fails, could undermine your goal.

If you are going to be in a situation where you will be tempted to go against your goals, give your willpower a boost by having a plan ahead of time. For example, if you are trying to diet and you are going to a wedding where there will be a lot of food, plan how much and what types of food you will eat and what you will do to distract yourself so that you don't break that goal.

Be Mindful Of Decisions

Many decisions that you make throughout the day are automatic, decided without much thought at all. You decide you're thirsty and you reach for your water, coffee, tea or soda, without much thinking about it. You think of someone you need to call,and you're dialing the phone before you have a chance to think about it. There are many such decisions that we make subconsciously every day.

When you are mindful of these small daily decisions, it brings your awareness to exactly what you are doing. This will help you make better decisions, but it will also exercise your willpower. Instead of reaching or that soda right next to you, consciously and mindfully change your decision to get up and get a glass of water.

Use Your Imagination

You can use your imagination to build up your willpower over time, but you can also use your imagination to help you strengthen your willpower at the moment. Researchers have found in many studies and applications that the body reacts to the imaginings of the mind in much the same way it reacts to stimuli based on reality.

Whenever you feel your willpower slipping, imagine yourself somewhere entirely different, in an entirely different situation. You can imagine yourself on a beach enjoying the sunshine ordoing an activity that you find relaxing and calming. When you do this, you will become more relaxed in body and mind.

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You can also use imagination to help boost your willpower when you are in tempting situations. If you imagine that you are going to do something later rather than at that moment, your body and mind will follow suit. They will be satisfied that the craving is being met, even though you are not meeting it at that moment.

Build Healthy Replacement Habits

Building healthy replacement habits can help you boost your willpower to break bad habits. Being in tempting situations is stressful and can break your resolve. Also, stress from other sources can cause you to crave the thing that you are trying to avoid such as food, cigarettes or alcohol.

When stress occurs, you should have healthy habits in place to help you cope with the stress so that your willpower doesn't have to work as hard. You could listen to calming music, do some deep breathing, go for a walk, or do a mini meditation. Whatever works for you that helps you reduce your stress and takes the place of the habit you are trying to break.

Break Down Goals To Manageable Steps

Large goals are very hard to stick to, especially when they are difficult. Your willpower is best served if you break these large goals down into small steps that will ultimately lead to the goal. You can then focus your efforts on just that one small step.

If you are dieting, you could have steps to get you through the day. For a certain part of the day, you will eat only fruits and vegetables. Or for this one day, you will track your food intake. The next day's tracking is the next step.

You can use this same exercise with quitting smoking. Make a goal to get through your workday without a cigarette. Then after a couple of days, you can make a goal to get through the entire day without a cigarette. Breaking a long-term goal into smaller time segments can help you not be overwhelmed by the big picture.

Don't Be A People Pleaser

If you want to boost your willpower muscles, don't be a people pleaser. Constantly monitoring your behavior and speech to be pleasing to others takes a tremendous amount of effort and willpower. When you use all that willpower to please everyone around you, you won't have any left for the important goals that you are trying to achieve.

Don't Be Constantly Depleted

Which leads to the most important part of building your willpower muscles. Like with any muscle that you build, you can't use it if it is overworked and tired. Willpower is the same. While you want to exercise your willpower to increase it over time, you also don't want to deplete it entirely.

Doing so will mean that when you need it, it won't be there. So even though exercising your willpower using these methods will work, you want to use them sparingly. Don't try to do them all at once and still meet a goal.

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Get Help When Necessary

If you are fighting a major addiction such as addiction to food, alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs, you may need more help to boost your willpower than you will find with these exercises. Don't be afraid to ask for help to get you through the tough times and help you meet your goals.

You can get help in some ways. There are many support and recovery groups for most addictions, and they are very helpful in helping give your willpower a boost. You can also undergo group or individual therapy with a licensed psychologist to help you learn how to increase willpower.


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