The more I write, the more fascinated I become with the topic of willpower. I can write about sleep, super-foods, and social skills for days, but the response from my readers and clients is always the same:
I hate that response.
“If you “know” then why are you still watching TV, skipping workouts, and pounding Doritos like they’re vitamins?”
Well, it’s because “knowing” is not the issue. It’s not so simple. We all know we should eat more broccoli and less hot dogs wrapped in cheese. We know we should floss. We know to put 10% of our paycheck in a Roth IRA, yet we rarely implement that knowledge.
I mean, I am a personal trainer and a blogger who teaches health and self-improvement and just this weekend I found myself at a diner at 3am, after spending too much money at the bar, ordering mozzarella sticks and curly fries (which were awesome).
It’s not easy to be perfect, and sometimes it’s awesome to be imperfect; I had a blast at the bar, and the curly fries were FIRE.
But what can we do to help avoid finding ourselves at the diner at 3am ordering mozzarella sticks? Fine, maybe that’s just me, but don’t pretend like you’re flawless. Whether you are a sucker for cheesecakes, a couch potato, or can’t muster up the will to save some cash, there are things that we all “know” yet don’t actually do.
So here are 3 tools I stole from Kelly McGonigal’s book, The Willpower Instinct (one of my favorites) to help us both out.
1. Focus on “I Want” Power
When you are in the heat of the moment, your focus is absorbed by the temptation in front of you. We forget about the big picture. When the movie theater is lofting that delicious smell of popcorn, our six pack goals dwindle. When that alarm goes off at 5am, all of a sudden the bed is the perfect temperature and comfort level.
In these moments, we need to bring our bigger picture goals to the front of our mind. This is what McGonigal calls “I Want” Power. The ability to focus on what we truly want can give us that push to walk by the popcorn counter or get our ass out of bed. Do you want to sleep an extra hour or achieve your dreams so you can eventually quit your day job? Do you want a shredded six pack or do 30 minutes of buttery-salty-happiness? Take a second to pause and reflect before making that decision, and keep your true desires at the front of your mind.
2. Slow Down Your Breathing
Set a timer for a minute, and focus on your breathing.
How many breaths did you take? Now, try it again and slow it down. How many breaths did you take this time? Now, slow it down even more.
McGonigal says try to take only 4-6 breaths in a minute. When you do this you increase your heart rate variability (HRV), which is a good indicator of willpower.
Those with higher HRV are better at “ignoring distractions, delaying gratification, dealing with stress, and are more resilient.”
Recovering alcoholics, whoes HRV increased when they saw a drink, were much less likely to relapse. Whereas those whose HRV went down when they saw a drink were much more likely to fall back into their old drinking habits.
Try slowing down your breathing in those tough moments of temptation.
3. Eliminate Distractions
Stanford Professor of Marketing, Baba Shiv, says people who are distracted are more likely to give into temptations.
You are more likely to succumb to your in-the-moment cravings if you are surrounded by a bunch of bells-and-whistles.
The more distractions you can eliminate when making willpower decisions the better off you’ll be. If you’re on Twitter and texting your bff while deciding where to eat it’s very likely you’ll end up with a pizza on your coffee table. If you’re Facebook-ing while online shopping you’re much less likely to allocate money to that savings account and put it towards Amazon prime.
How can you eliminate the noise when making willpower decisions?
What strategies do you use to get out of bed and skip out on the 3am diner sessions? Let me know in the comments below.