The shortest shortcut to success

Its been described as the ability to control oneself and the decisions one makes. As the ability to delay gratification and choose long-term rewards over short-term rewards. As a muscle that can be strengthened.

We are of course referring to, willpower.

I’m no willpower expert. All I have are my own experiences. I quit a 20-year smoking habit, cold turkey. No patches, no gum, no medication. How?… Willpower!I dropped over 30 pounds in body weight over a 3 month period, by following Tim Ferriss’ Slow-Carb Diet and his Occam’s Protocol resistance training program. How?… Willpower! I religiously hit the gym five early (very early) mornings a week and have been doing so for the last five years straight. How?… Willpower!

Willpower has become a topic of controversy in recent times. A pissing contest within academic circles.

There are two sides — those that staunchly claim that willpower doesn’t work, and those that staunchly claim that willpower does work.

Benjamin Hardy has a PhD in organizational psychology and is currently Medium’s top writer.

I recently finished reading his book, “Willpower Doesn’t Work: Discover The Hidden Keys To Success.”

Throughout all 256 pages, what does Hardy have to say about willpower?

  • Willpower is like a muscle. It’s a finite resource that depletes with use.
  • Your willpower is basically your energy stores. Once you run out, you’re out.
  • If you want to control your life, willpower should not be your strategy of choice.
  • Willpower is not an effective approach to personal change.
  • Willpower is for people who haven’t decided what they actually want in their lives.
  • Willpower doesn’t work. You’ve lied to yourself about this flawed debate for years.
  • The willpower research is defective.
  • Stop the willpower madness already.

Due most likely to my own naivety, the quandary I found myself in after this read was that I wasn’t left feeling in any way convinced whyexactly willpower doesn’t work.

What are the specific reasons whywillpower doesn’t work?

Where is all the current research supporting whywillpower doesn’t work?

Now I’m not saying that answers to these questions don’t exist. But what I am saying is that I couldn’t find any of these answers in the 256 pages that I read.

Instead, Hardy advocates the need to create and control one’s environment. And he does a fantastic job in driving home this argument — which is essentially the book’s entire theme. 

In essence, you are who you are because of your environment. Want to change? Then change your environment. If you don’t shape your environment, it will shape you. You need to continually change your environment every time you’re ready to upgrade yourself.

Roy F. Baumeister, PhD, is a prolific and world-renowned psychologist who has written 450 scientific publications and 28 books. He is currently Francis Eppes Professor of Psychology at Florida State University.

John Tierney is a science columnist for the New York Times who has been honored with awards from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Institute of Physics.

Together they collaborated to produce the New York Times bestselling book, “Willpower: Rediscovering The Greatest Human Strength.”

Throughout all 304 pages, what do Baumeister and Tierney have to say about willpower?

  • Willpower lets us change ourselves and our society in small and large ways.
  • Research into willpower and self-control is psychology’s best hope for contributing to human welfare.
  • A study in New Zealand tracked 1,000 people from birth to age 32 and found that those with strong self-control were healthier, happier and more successful.
  • Willpower isn’t an abstract concept. In fact, it’s tied to our biology. It’s crucial to the mind’s functionality, and intimately tied to our brain chemistry.
  • You can train your willpower to be stronger, just like a muscle. Researchers found that changing one habitual behavior — such as using your left hand instead of your right or focusing on sitting up straight instead of slouching — increases your willpower over time.
  • Using your willpower to make positive changes in your behavior can strengthen self-control in other areas of your life. Even minor changes, such as making the decision to say “yes” and “no” rather than “yeah” and nope,” can strengthen your willpower and add to your supply.
  • The strongest source of willpower is the belief that you are serving a purpose greater than yourself.
  • Your success at focusing your willpower on reaching your goals hinges completely on the quality and composition of those goals. Self-control starts with setting the right goals. In order to have enough willpower available to reach your goals, you’ll have to make sure they are clearly formulated without being overly specific.
  • You avoid draining your willpower by developing positive habits. While it certainly takes willpower to establish a habit, once it becomes part of your routine then you’ll no longer need to make an effort to continue doing it.
  • Willpower isn’t linked to pleasure, but to the amount of sugar in the food we consume. Glucose, not relaxation, is what gives us the strength to control ourselves.

Kelly McGonigal, PhD, is a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University. She has received several awards including Stanford University’s highest teaching honor, the Walter J. Gores award.

McGonigal is the author of the well-known book, “The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters And What You Can Do To Get More Of It.”

Throughout all 288 pages, what does McGonigal have to say about willpower?

  • Research shows that people with stronger willpower are better off in almost every aspect of life — they’re happier and healthier, have more satisfying and long-lasting relationships, are more successful, make more money — and even live longer.
  • Meditating increases awareness and helps avoid distractions — which in turn boosts self-control. Increasing your self-awareness through meditation can help to save you from willpower failures.
  • Scientists have shown that it only takes three hours of regular meditation to improve self-control and develop a higher attention span, and after 11 hours of practice the changes are already observable in the brain.
  • Willpower is like a muscle — it can be trained. By performing small but regular willpower challenges you can gradually improve your self control.
  • We can do our best to maintain our willpower at a high level by keeping our blood sugar steady and our energy levels high. Low-glycemic foods such as nuts, cereals, fruits, vegetables and high-fiber grains all contribute to resourcing our willpower.
  • Willpower is contagious — our social environment can increase and decrease our willpower. Research shows that just thinking about someone with good self-control increases your own willpower.

As noted above, willpower has been the subject of numerous research studies. 

Studies show that willpower can be developed with the proper exercises. 

Building willpower takes time, but willpower gives you the ability to direct your life, resist unproductive urges, and take appropriate action.

Develop Your Willpower With These Proven Strategies

1. Learn to manage stress more effectively. 

When willpower is called into play, there are two opposing forces: the desire to either do something or to avoid something, and the option of doing something. The greater the stress caused by this internal conflict, the more willpower you need to take the more appropriate action.

Stress depletes willpower. 

Stress can also cause you to choose the option with the greater short-term rewards, regardless of the long-term consequences. This means eating that doughnut or sitting on the couch watching Netflix, instead of filing your taxes.

By learning to lower your stress levels, you increase both the amount of willpower available to you and the effectiveness of that willpower.

2. Exercise. 

Those that exercise experience less stress. 

Less stress means more willpower. 

3. Diet. 

A healthy diet has also been shown to enhance willpower. 

Studies have shown low blood sugar can dramatically decrease willpower. Your brain simply needs a certain amount of glucose available for maximum self-control. So ask yourself if you’re eating in a way that promotes low blood sugar.

4. Make your own deadlines. 

Pledge to clean out the garage by Saturday afternoon. Or decide that you’ll complete your taxes by March 15th. Studies have shown this to be an effective way to build willpower.

5. Create positive habits, one by one. 

Create a small, positive habit. Perform one push-up in the morning. You don’t need much willpower to perform a single push-up. Then you can build on where you’re at.

Habits don’t build willpower. They circumvent the need for it.

6. Boost your mood. 

Watch a funny movie. Think about something that makes you happy. You’ll have more willpower at your disposal.

7. Get more sleep. 

Too little sleep impacts the part of the brain responsible for decision-making. Strive to get at least eight hours of sleep each night.

8. Meditate. 

Meditation is especially popular these days. Studies have shown it to enhance stress-management and focus. It has also been shown to increase willpower.

Practicing meditation for only a couple of months can provide a significant change in your ability to control your behavior.

9. Practice. 

Your reserve of willpower may be limited, but you can learn to maximize what you have.

Forcing yourself to continue when you feel like stopping is one of the easiest ways to build your willpower muscle.

Imagine that you want to stop cleaning the house, or writing a report, or exercising. Instead of allowing yourself to quit, force yourself to continue for another 10 minutes. That’s all. After a few weeks, increase the time to 20 minutes. Pretty soon, you’ll become a master at pushing through the urge to quit.

10. Pay attention to your posture. 

In one interesting study, it was shown that paying attention to your posture for two weeks enhanced scores on several willpower tests.

What could be more simple? Whenever you catch yourself slouching, correct yourself, and stand or sit up straight.

Summing Up

Willpower has become a topic of controversy in recent times. 

There are two sides — those that claim that willpower doesn’t work, and those that claim that willpower does work. Pick your side freely.

I know which side worked for me. And I know which proven strategies have helped me develop my willpower.

The key is to use your willpower wisely. 

Spend a small amount of time each day enhancing your willpower. 

A little willpower can go a long way.

“Willpower is the key to success. Successful people strive no matter what they feel by applying their will to overcome apathy, doubt or fear.” — Dan Millman

Mr. Cab Driver writes on Medium.

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