It’s about that time of year when New Year’s resolutions waver and goals seem out of reach. But that doesn’t have to be the case if we learn how to build willpower.
Some people appear to be born with a lot of determination. For the rest of us, it is possible to cultivate willpower. And that’s a good thing, because willpower can spell the difference between success and failure.
Decades ago, researchers at Stanford University demonstrated this with a study that started by asking children to sit in front of a tasty-looking marshmallow. The children were given a simple choice: Eat that one marshmallow now, or wait 15 minutes and get two. Some waited for the bonus marshmallow, but some did not.
Professor Walter Mischel then followed the children through their lives. According to Bloomberg Businessweek:
Tracking the kids over time, Mischel found that the ability to hold out in this seemingly trivial exercise had real and profound consequences. As they matured and became adults, the kids who had shown the ability to wait got better grades, were healthier, enjoyed greater professional success, and proved better at staying in relationships — even decades after they took the test. They were, in short, better at life.
Even if you haven’t learned self-restraint so far, it’s not too late. Here are seven proven ways to build willpower:
1. Remove temptations
Make it easier to meet goals by looking for ways to reduce the number of difficult decisions you must face each day. For example:
- Set up automatic transfers from your paycheck to a high-interest savings account if you’re trying to save more money. Looking for the right account? Stop by our Solutions Center and find the highest-paying savings accounts.
- Avoid drinkers, smokers or big spenders if you’re quitting those habits.
- Hang out with friends whose lives align with your goals.
If your goal is to destroy debt, then carry only cash, no credit cards. Stash your plastic where it’s hard to get to it, or cut the cards up. Avoid shopping malls.
2. Spend your reserves strategically
We have a limited amount of self-control at any one time, studies have found. So, use your self-control strategically. When it’s consumed, there’s less to apply to other goals.
3. Have a snack
Studies show a relationship between glucose levels (also called blood-sugar levels) and self-control, with levels falling among test subjects after they use self-control. They also found that restoring glucose levels may help replenish self-control. To help you fight the urge for sugary treats, eat small healthy meals or snacks throughout the day to keep your glucose levels steady.
4. Procrastinate — on purpose
When you’re just about to give into temptation, talk yourself into waiting just a few minutes more. Distracting yourself even briefly helps you forget your struggles.
For example, when you feel like a shopping spree, visit online stores you love, carefully selecting “purchases” and putting them in your online cart. Imagine how they’ll look, how they’ll work with your other clothes and where you’ll wear them.
Then, distract yourself by leaving the computer and getting involved in other things. When you come back to the computer, any urge to buy is likely to have passed. Empty the cart and leave the online store, having satisfied the hunter-gatherer impulse.