Willpower - Not just for Lent
Posted on Thursday, April 18, 2019 by Maire Gerrard — No comments
As we come to the end of the festival of Lent, people across the globe will be looking forward to reintroducing the various joys they had given up back into their lives. Be it chocolate, alcohol, biting your nails or social media, it can take a great deal of willpower to restrain yourself from something that would otherwise be a regular occurrence.
We live in a time where periods of self-discipline are increasingly frequent and promoted in the mainstream, with examples including Stoptober, Dry January and most recently Veganuary. There are undoubtedly benefits to exercising willpower, with renowned social psychology professor, Roy F Baumeister regarding it as “the key to success and a happy life”.
While struggling to refrain from some bad habits might not have an immediately detrimental effect, a general lack of willpower can indicate a determination deficit that could have a wider impact; for example, on your career and family life.
It can be argued that there is a thin line between success and failure, and many would say that the line is willpower. Even if you have an abundance of natural ability and skill, without this it is very likely you will succumb to temptation in some form when trying to achieve your goals. The good news is, even if you are someone who doesn’t consider themselves to have much willpower, there are ways to strengthen your resolve. Willpower can be likened to a muscle that gets stronger when exercised, and the following steps can help you on your way:
- Build it up
You should build up self-control by exercising it regularly and in small doses. Continuing with the comparison of willpower and a muscle, both can be overworked and subsequently weakened. If you have multiple vices, cutting them all off in totality at once will probably only lead to a relapse later down the line. Instead focus on one at a time, building up your resistance slowly.
- Establish good habits
Slight lifestyle changes can have a huge impact on our ability to harness our willpower, and enable us to switch our bad habits for good ones. To focus on ‘giving up’ gives a negative inference that is unnecessary; instead it should be considered as ‘substitution’ for something more positive. For example, if you want to decrease your exposure to screens, it is important to find other activities and hobbies to fill your time, otherwise you will most likely revert back to them.
- Avoid temptation
When in the early stages of establishing good habits and building up your willpower, it makes sense to avoid situations that are likely to encourage you to regress. This takes willpower in itself, as Baumeister says: “People with low willpower use it to get themselves out of crises. People with high willpower use it not to get themselves into crises”.
To conclude, exercising self-restraint is both important and achievable. While it is not necessary in many cases to give up something completely, slight changes in lifestyle and outlook can go a long way to ensuring you can exercise more control over your vices.
Willpower is for the whole year, not just for Lent; but it’s definitely a good place to start.