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Understand Will Power and Learn 5 Ways to Make it Stronger


In continuing with our post series on Habits and Motivation to help you live more a more consistent and disciplined lifestyle (i.e. get more things accomplished with less time and energy), today we will be addressing TWO important ingredients in the mix: Will Power and Accountability.

Will Power

A quick definition of Will Power will help us more clearly understand what it is, what it does, and how it is useful for our purposes:

Will Power is: the ability to resist short-term gratification in pursuit of long-term goals or objectives.

  1. What it is: Power over your own Will; the ability to control your own actions; the ability to say “No” to your feelings and pursue a more purposeful course of action
  2. What it does: It spurs your body into action – irregardless of your feelings; it keeps you moving even when “the going gets tough”
  3. How it is useful: Every action you take requires Will Power to see it through. Some actions require more Will Power than others, but there is no meaningful Change, Growth, or Success without involving Will Power.

Two more key points about Will Power are important to understand:

  • Will Power is a finite resource. It can become depleted with overuse or fatigued when you are fatigued.
  • Will Power and Feelings are in a constant struggle. Will Power directs actions based on a conscious decision. Feelings control impulsive, automatic, or default actions.

The Spirit vs. the Flesh

Actually, this is an interesting illustration from Christianity that can help us more clearly envision the struggle between Will Power and your Feelings. Christians refers to this kind of struggle as a war between your Spirit (Will Power) and your Flesh (Feelings). And one of the most famous phrases regarding this struggle comes Jesus, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)

Actually, in many ways, this is a good kind of struggle (though it can also often be frustrating).

  1. If we lived solely in our Feelings, we would be like animals seeking only that which would satisfy our immediate urges: food, sex, immediate stress relief, and so on. Following our Feelings provides us with instant gratification of whatever hunger we possess. Many immediate fixes carry lasting consequences, which is why it’s good that we resist them through an exercise of our Will Power.
  2. If we lived solely by our Will Power, we would be like robots – often ignoring the needs of our bodies in favor of some “higher destiny.” Our actions could easily become disconnected from our Feelings, and while this would help delay gratification, we might delay it too long as to be detrimental to our own bodies. Therefore it is good to have a balance between Feelings and Will Power.
Source: Dump A Day
Source: Dump A Day

How to Strengthen Your Will Power

With all that being said, I think we can all universally agree that as humans beings we all still find the war between Will Power and Feelings to be frustrating at best, and disheartening at worst – particularly when Feelings seem to win more battles than Will Power (as is the case for most people).

If I said I didn’t struggle with exercising my Will Power, I’d be lying, but I can also say (from experience) that as we exercise our Will Power, it gets stronger. The following are X ways to help strengthen your Will Power to get more accomplished according to your long-term goals and plans:

1. Exercise your Will Power

Research indicates that Will Power can be learned, so even if you feel like you don’t have any at all, take heart! This is something you can learn!

Will Power is just like any muscle. Everyone has some, and anyone can learn how to put those muscles to good use. It just takes Time and Perseverance even in hardship. Remember, you’re looking for Progress, not Perfection.

Exercise your Will Power by:

  1. Work on solving a difficult puzzle – like sudoku or a crossword.
  2. Park at the far end of the parking lot and walk in to work.
  3. Take the stairs rather than the elevator.
  4. Change the cola in your Big Mac meal to an iced tea.
  5. Form a new Habit of hanging up your coat immediately after getting home rather than tossing it on the floor or the chair.
  6. Make a new Habit of studying your Korean flashcards every lunchtime.

Whatever you do, just remember:

  • Will Power is a conscious decision to do something different.
  • Small changes are powerful. Over time, small changes can lead to enormous Success.

2. Make a Plan for the times your Will Power is likely to be low

We all know that at certain times, in certain locations, or among certain people or situations, our Will Power just seems to take its own personal “time out” and we are left alone with overwhelming Feelings and Temptations. Well, before facing that kind of situation again, plan out the course of action you will take. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Avoid temptation altogether. If you know you will be weak in the face of temptations, don’t even go there. Exercise your Will Power by staying away.
  2. Create an “if-then” scenario.If I’m tempted with… Then I’ll respond by… ” Planning your responses early gives your Will Power a step up on its competition. Now that you know what to do, all you have to do is do it. There will be no thinking, Feeling, or negotiating with yourself. Just put your Plan into action.
  3. Give yourself a different, higher Motivation. (i.e. Look through the present reality into your future possibility.) Research indicates that people never completely exhaust their Will Power, but hold some of it in reserve and that the right Motivation (particularly a high Motivation) can help you tap into those reserves. But, this method can only be employed as a last resort and not fully depended on. The more exhausted your Will Power, the more difficult it will be to overcome your Feelings.

3. Take care of your Body

Sleep deprivation, hunger, high levels of stress, irregular blood-glucose levels, even low self-esteem, negative thinking, and substance abuse have been shown to have negative impacts on your Will Power. Make a conscious decision (using your Will Power) now to live a healthier life.

  1. Get enough sleep at night (6-8 hours)
  2. Eat regular, healthy meals (none of this eating an entire pizza only once per day stuff anymore – you’re not in college any longer)
  3. Don’t wait too long between meals to eat (2-4 hours)
  4. Turn off your electronic devices for 5 minutes per day – take some time to get away from the noise and distraction. Give your eyes and heart a moment to take in the nature around you.
  5. Get motivated; practice Positive Thinking (yes, it’s a muscle to be exercised too); do something Fun.

4. Don’t do too much at once

If being tired depletes your Will Power quickly, how much more will overexerting your Will Power? This is just one more reason New Year’s Resolutions fail. There are too many! Commit yourself from now on to calling it a New Year’s Resolution (singular – no ‘s’). Do only one thing at a time and be satisfied with:

  1. Building a solid Habit
  2. Establishing a foundation from which other Habits can grow
  3. Watching your steady Progress. (Remember, we want Progress, not Perfection.)

5. Get Accountable

The first person you’re trying to be Accountable to is yourself. Hold yourself to your own high standards of performance and achievement first. When you look at yourself in the mirror every morning, really look at yourself in the mirror. Remember, if you could only get that person in the mirror to behave, then life would be pretty great.

Secondly, start telling other people (very close and trusted individuals who will support you, not squash you) what you’re trying to accomplish. Ask them to help you achieve your goals. Give them some ideas for how to do so. Don’t just say, “I want you to hold me accountable.” What does that mean? Rather say, “Let’s meet for lunch every Thursday, and I want you to ask me how such-and-such is going.”

The very fact that you now know you will be meeting someone else and looking into their eyes as you explain your successes or failings over the previous week will provide a little extra kick of Motivation and Will Power when temptations arise. It will also help you do a better job of following the above 4 suggestions as well – because you know that they will help you give a more positive report.

I know today’s post is a bit longer than usual, but I really wanted to give you some practical tips for strengthening your Will Power.

How will you strengthen your Will Power to better study Korean?

Join us again next week as I look more closely at the difference between Progress and Perfection and why we should focus on the former, but usually get tripped up striving for the latter.

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