These days, it feels like there are more and more distractions keeping us from reaching peak productivity. The increased access and availability of technology and entertainment at our fingertips can make it difficult for us to stay focused on the day to day tasks we need to accomplish. In addition to distractions, our self-control can also be challenged with the wide accessibility of unhealthy foods and other substances that can affect our physical and mental health! Constant use of these things, without moderation, can cloud our minds, slow down our bodies, and decrease our abilities to thrive. As a result, people are struggling to hold onto their willpower and are looking for ways to channel and sustain it.
Willpower has been a long struggle for people in most developed countries, because of the access they have to things that cause distraction. Studies have been done throughout the years to assess how willpower works and what having strong will power means to a person’s ability to succeed! There have been multiple studies that have assessed willpower and how the amount of self-control a person has in childhood could affect them as adults. One particular study that is famous amongst psychology fans is the study of the Marshmallow Experiment. In this particular study, researchers provided children with one marshmallow on a plate, then told them that they were going to leave the room for a bit, but that they children had two choices: they could eat the marshmallow now, or they could wait for the researcher to return and they would earn 2 marshmallows if they could wait]. This study found that those who were able to use their willpower to wait for the second marshmallow showed higher self-control as adults which lead them to “higher academic success, better health, and lower rates of marital separation and divorce.”
Research has also found that a person’s brain functioning may influence the way that they can control their impulses. Studies show that people with higher self-control have more active frontal lobes of their brain; the frontal lobe is the place where most of our impulse control and rational thinking comes from. It seems that people who have less active frontal lobes suffer from decreased ability to control impulses and urges, thus lowering their willpower. While it is difficult to control how much activity certain parts of our brains are using at a time, researchers and mental health clinicians have been working together to develop plans to help people improve their ability to set their mind to things and to work toward their goals. Willpower is something that does not come naturally to most people… it is something that takes practice and needs to be actively worked on to develop its strength.
Here are some strategies that can help a person begin to develop stronger willpower:
- Research continues to find amazing benefits from the practice of mindfulness, or the ability to practice being in the present moment and developing awareness of the thoughts, feelings, and situations that you are in, in any given moment. Research shows that engaging in mindfulness practices like meditation, guided imagery, and other forms of being present can help you to improve your overall feelings of health and wellness in addition to your self-control skills as well. If you are in a state of mindfulness, you may be more aware when your self-control is slipping, and you will be able to get yourself back on track.
- Exercise can be something that people have a hard time motivating themselves to do, but ironically, developing a consistent exercise and fitness pattern in your life can significantly improve the way that your body manages self-control and willpower. Physical exercise has been seen to change the way that our brains function, and consistent exercise can change and strengthen a person’s frontal lobe to help with impulse control issues.
- There are a million reasons why people are told that healthy eating is important; overall, it is key to keeping your internal and external body running efficiently. In addition to simple daily functions of your body, having the right kinds of nutrition is critical to the way that our body connects with our mind and influences our thoughts and emotions. More and more research is showing that people who have unhealthy eating patterns experience struggles with concentration, difficulties with emotional regulation and impulse control, and general feelings of depression and low-energy. Maintaining a healthy and well-moderated diet is the essential component to helping your mind work at its best.
- Be Real with Yourself
- The best way to set yourself up for success is to be realistic about the goals you have. It takes time to develop behaviors into habits, and slow progression into more difficult challenges is the best way to see long-term results! When setting goals, make sure to give yourself clear expectations and that you feel confident that you can succeed at the first goals you set. This may mean making a goal to walk around the block every day for a week before setting a goal to run a 5k. Whatever your goal, make sure it’s something that is not going to be so difficult to achieve that you become defeated and unwilling to try.
- Take Your Time
- No one makes drastic life changes overnight and sustains them. It is important to remember that developing habits and positive behavior changes is a process that takes patience and time. While seeing results definitely helps to improve motivation, you won’t see results without patience and working slowly toward a goal. This is where mindfulness comes in; remember where you are in terms of your goal and what you can do every day to take you there.
- Get Support
- Maintaining self-control and willpower is hard for everyone! Having motivational support from loved ones is a great way to help keep you on track. Find an accountability buddy or someone who is willing to motivate you and encourage you to stay working toward your goals! Having someone to work toward difficult things with and to celebrate with when you achieve them can help you meet your goals faster.
Dr. Shannon McHugh is a Licensed Clinical and Forensic Psychologist in Los Angeles, California. She specializes in assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and adults who have developmental and social delays, behavioral difficulties, and those who have experienced traumatic events