Following my Bournemouth marathon festival exploits at the beginning of October this year, I had the best part of a week off, I then did a 16 mile Sunday long run, and a couple of recovery runs and felt weak and poorly. I purposely took another full week off and during that time my children brought home bugs and viruses which led to us all being poorly and I took another week off.
Last Sunday, the 1st of November, I began my 25 week training schedule for the 2016 London marathon for which I have a ‘good for age’ place and am going for a personal best time. Having had 3 weeks off though, I had to grind through the gears of some rusty cogs. What do I mean by that?
In the 3 weeks I had taken off, I was sleeping in for longer and was more involved with my children’s routine in the mornings, I loved that. When I had children my intention has always been to be a present Father and I am around every breakfast time, dinner time and bed time and I engage with them greatly during those times. However, during my weeks off, I was able to be more relaxed in the mornings, take my time over things and in just 3 weeks new habits started forming despite all my years of early morning running routine. This was the longest amount of time that I had not been out running for years!
It was very good for me, my legs and my feet. Since this Sunday, I’ve run every day, my schedule is in full swing and I’m feeling rejuvenated, revived and raring to go. I definitely saw how easy it can be to slump into different types of patterns. I discussed this with a friend yesterday and he said that he wished he had that sort of will power as he had given into temptation earlier that day by eating some of the leftover chocolates that had been brought in by his work colleagues following Halloween weekend.
Some people cannot go five minutes without checking their emails and would be so much more productive if they were logged off and had will power to only look at them once or twice a day. Some people spend a small fortune impulsively buying stuff online that they simply do not need. Some people are checking their phone for Facebook notifications every ten minutes. Some of my hypnotherapy clients are challenged when I ask them to complete a daily 10 minute psychological exercise. Some of my hypnotherapy students struggle to discipline themselves for the coursework and home study expected of them in order to qualify as a hypnotherapist. These people all would benefit from developing and strengthening their will-power, because when they do so, they’ll be more productive, they’ll achieve more of their goals in a more timely fashion and they’ll feel more in control of their lives.
I thought I’d write about the best ways to boost and develop will power and where possible, support these things with evidence. What’s more, the scientific evidence shows that it is easier to develop and strengthen will-power than you might initially think.
1. Create New and Better Habits
Habits are powerful. Many of my hypnotherapy clients tell me this. They tell me that habits are powerful things, implying that change is difficult when it comes to updating habits. I always agree with them because one technique I use in my therapy rooms is Habit Reversal (pioneered by Azrin and Nunn and one of the most evidence based approaches to overcoming habits with some of the highest symptom remission rates) which involves installing a counter-habit that makes the unwanted habit impossible to carry out. Then I explain that it is precisely because habit works so forcefully that the treatment of a variety of conditions by installing counter-habits can be so powerful, lasting, and effective.
Most importantly though, when we form a routine and a new habit, things get automated. We do not have to think about them so much, they just happen. Once I am in the midst of my training schedules, I do not need to think about it, the habit just gets me up and running.
You take action and force the habit for an initial period and after a while it becomes automated and your will-power is boosted.
“Hang on, hang on Adam…. But I need the will-power in the first place to get the habit happening… Where is that going to come from” That is a good question and shows you are considering this thoroughly.
The new habit is formed by repetition and more will-power will be borne out of that, but where is the initial will-power going to come from for that? Well the rest of this list will give you lots of things you can do that will bolster the initial will-power greatly.
Learn more about getting rid of your bad habits:
Combating Unwanted Habits with Aversive Sensitivity
Self-Hypnosis to Overcome Bad Habits or Behaviours
Audio hypnosis session:
Overcome Unwanted Habits with Mental Screening
2. Commit and Plan
With my marathon schedules, I really enjoy the planning phase. I also really like the fact that I can just follow it without thought and know that I will be in a good place and capable of achieving my goal if I have done all the training at the end.
The evidence would suggest that the most important thing you can do to boost will-power is to commit to do so. By fully committing yourself to improving and strengthening your will-power, the rest of the things mentioned in this list will be much easier, and without commitment some items here will be impossible.
Consider your dreams, consider the things you’d like to achieve in life, consider the areas of your life that you think you lack willpower and where you’d like to strengthen it and set yourself the goal of improving your willpower in this regard. Make it your intention to boost willpower and overcome adversity in this area of your life and then create a specific action plan with a strategy for doing so. Include and incorporate the full range of techniques and strategies mentioned in this article.
In a 2013 study by Hagger and Luszczynska entitled Implementation Intention and Action Planning Interventions in Health Contexts: State of the Research and Proposals for the Way Forward the authors showed that when you commit and plan specific action steps, your willpower is increased.
Commit and plan and know what steps you will take to start boosting your willpower. You’ll be focused and you’ll have the initial grit between your teeth. With that in mind, let’s examine some evidence-based approaches to strengthening your willpower….
3. Hold Your Wee In
“Hang on, Hang on Adam…. Did you mean to write that?”
Yes I did. I know it is a funny thing to read, and I found it pretty funny to write, but let me explain: A 2011 study entitled Inhibitory spillover: increased urination urgency facilitates impulse control in unrelated domains by Tuk, Trampe and Wallop had participants drink several glasses of flavoured water and before they were able to visit the toilet they were given opportunities to earn money. Those who needed to relieve themselves were much more likely to relinquish the initial financial reward so that they could get the larger financial incentive later on.
The notion supported by the study is that when the brain is focusing on being self-controlled and disciplined, that discipline spreads to the other tasks you are performing at the same time. It is a double edged sword because it increases willpower as a by-product of being physically self-controlled.
It is not limited to holding on when you are bursting for the loo! You can think of any other physical exercise or activity that requires you to maintain physical self-control in order to have more discipline in other areas of your life. You can hold a facial expression, clench your fist, grip an item, hold your eyes shut, breathe mindfully or anything else where you exercise self-control, invest concerted effort and pay attention. You’ll boost willpower as a result.
4. Self-Hypnosis and Mindfulness
There is so much great evidence to support the efficacy of self-hypnosis for overcoming pain, reducing stress and anxiety, advancing ability to focus, managing emotional issues; go read my Science of Self-Hypnosis book on the subject, or follow my blog articles about self-hypnosis and you’ll get a sense of just how much there is that supports it as something we can all include in our daily lives.
You can give yourself suggestions to be have more willpower, you can imagine yourself and your life as if you had more willpower and there are other techniques and strategies that specifically help to boost willpower. However, the simple process of just using it for mindful meditation and focusing on your breathing, relaxing is shown to directly boost willpower with just 10 minutes practice a day.
A 2012 study by Friese, Messner and Schaffner entitled Mindfulness meditation counteracts self-control depletion supports this specifically.
5. Smiling More Often
“For the third time… Hang on, hang on Adam. Are you telling me I can strengthen my willpower by just smiling?”
Yes I am. Science supports that notion too. It is not just smiling though, but doing anything that lifts your mood; when your mood is lifted, your willpower improves. The previous point about self-hypnosis becomes doubly beneficial if you use self-hypnosis to elevate your mood,for example.
A 2007 study entitled Restoring the self: Positive affect helps improve self-regulation following ego depletion by Tice et al. showed that when participants in the study had their willpower drained, those whose mood was subsequently lifted then had much better willpower performance than a group who simply rested for the same period of time. If you need to get into action, or if you need to resist temptation, then start to smile, force it onto your face at first, and find ways to make yourself laugh; watch funny videos, recall funny memories or favourite comedy sketches and it’ll work wonders to your willpower.
6. Food Glorious Food
A 2011 study entitled Extraneous factors in judicial decisions by Danziger, Levav and Avnaim-Pesso showed that your willpower can be fuelled and powered by food! That’s it, you can eat your way to willpower! The study showed that when participants had low blood sugar levels, our willpower gets depleted. That does not mean you eat sugary foods. Then you’ll get a spike and a big crash in energy which will ensure your willpower goes the same descending direction. Eat foods that are high in healthy fats and protein, which delivers healthy, useful and steady blood sugar levels resulting in willpower being boosted.
On that note, it is not a stand alone item here in this article because I could not find really good research regarding it, but when we are fatigued and tired, our willpower plummets too, right? It makes sense to manage the quality of your sleep and be well rested and invigorated each day.
7. Be Nice to Yourself
Have some self-compassion. I have written about the value of this in a number of ways here on this blog over the years. Do have a read of this article How to advance self-compassion using self-hypnosis.
The evidence suggests that if you have regret, this results in your willpower diminishing. In a 2014 study entitled Regret causes ego-depletion and finding benefits in the regrettable events alleviates ego-depletion authors Gao et al. showed this to be the case.
Forgive yourself of any small misdemeanours rather than subject yourself to guilt and regret. If you regret wasting time on Facebook when you should have been working on that novel (or hypnotherapy diploma course homework), or you regret eating that chocolate bar when you were supposed to be following a healthy eating regime, or if you regret buying another pair of running shoes online because they were in the sale even though you already have 30 pairs (and 6 have never even been worn), then that regret often results in you just letting go altogether! You decide to full kickback and watch Netflix, writing off the entire afternoon instead of working on that novel. You eat more chocolate or other naughty foods thinking “what the hell.” You buy more things in other sales….. Forgive yourself, be kind to yourself, be self-compassionate and you’ll strengthen and build your willpower.
If you follow as many of these evidence based factors you’ll then end up creating healthy habits that are fuelled with willpower and you’ll be leaping forward towards your goals, you’ll be more productive, you’ll be happier and more satisfied in so many areas of your life. Go boost your willpower, and start right away today.
Have some of themes here resonated with you? Then have a read of these pages:
1. Do you need help or support in a particular area of your life?
Coaching with Adam Eason Or Hypnotherapy with Adam Eason
2. Would you like a satisfying and meaningful career as a hypnotherapist helping others? Are you a hypnotherapist looking for stimulating and career enhancing continued professional development and advanced studies?
Adam Eason’s Anglo European training college.
3. Are you a hypnotherapist looking to fulfil your ambitions or advance your career?
Hypnotherapist Mentoring with Adam Eason.
Likewise, if you’d like to learn more about self-hypnosis, understand the evidence based principles of it from a scientific perspective and learn how to apply it to many areas of your life while having fun and in a safe environment and have the opportunity to test everything you learn, then come and join me for my one day seminar which does all that and more, have a read here: The Science of Self-Hypnosis Seminar.