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How to Improve Your Willpower

Matt Skeffington

Matt’s primary role at Dynamic Strength and Conditioning is to make sure that our coaches and clients are consistently improving, all while operatin...

Matt’s primary role at Dynamic Strength and Conditioning is to make sure that our coaches and clients are consistently improving, all while operatin...

Apr 17 7 minutes read

Back in 1960, Stanford professor, Walter Mische conducted a series of studies looking for the most important characteristic of leading a successful and productive life.

That characteristic researchers found was willpower or the ability to delay gratification. 

During one study, Mische and researches tested hundreds of children between the ages of 4 and 5. The study took one child at a time into a room where put a marshmallow in front of them. Researches then told they child that if they could wait 15 minutes and not eat the marshmallow until they got back, they would get another marshmallow. In other words, they were testing the child's willpower. 

This is where things got interesting as for years researchers continued to follow each child's progress in various areas of their lives. 

The children that had more willpower, delayed gratification and waited to get the second marshmallow, lived more successful lives. They had higher SAT scores, healthier body-weights, less levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity and disease, and less stress.

Researches followed these children for more than 40 years and time and time again, those that delayed gratification led healthier and more productive lives. 

Think about the changes you could make to your health, fitness, and results with more willpower.

  • If you delay the gratification of purchasing those cookies and desserts at the grocery store, you'll have healthier foods at home
  • If you delay the gratification of sleeping in and get up early to make breakfast, your nutrition and daily energy will improve
  • If you delay the gratification of skipping your workout, you'll be more consistent and see much better results
  • If you delay the gratification of staying up late and watching Netflix, you'll have more energy and motivation the next day

Here's the good news about willpower:

It's not something we are born with our without. Research has shown that willpower is extremely dependent on our environment. 

Think about the time you went to the grocery store and found yourself in the checkout aisle grabbing that piece of candy on the shelf. Were you thinking about or wanting that candy before you saw it? Most likely not. Grocery stores know this and purposely place these very tempting, willpower testing items at eye level. 

The truth about willpower is this: those who seem to display more willpower and stay more disciplined don't have more or better willpower, the simply need to use it less. 

They put themselves in less tempting situations and environments so they don't need to use it as much. 

Today, we're covering 4 tips to help you shape your environment and improve your willpower. 

1| Have Specific Goals

By having a goal and end target in mind you will be more motivated and driven. Instead of leaving your results up to chance, having goals will keep you on track and make it less likely for you to end up in unfavorable situations where your willpower is consistently tested.

Make sure your goals are your own, that they're measurable, specific, and have a timeline.

One you have your larger goal (like losing 50lbs), then create smaller goals to move you in the right direction.

These are goals like:

  • Sleeping 7+ hours per night
  • Drinking 64+oz of water a day
  • Exercising 4x/week
  • Prepping your breakfast before bed each night

2| Change Your Nutritional Environment

During a 6-month study at a hospital cafeteria, researchers aimed to improve customer beverage choices by adding water bottles to the main soda refrigerator and adding additional baskets of water in areas around the various food stations. Water was visible and available at all beverage stations, not just soda.

Over the next few months soda sales dropped by 11% and sales of bottled water increased by 25%. Researchers made similar healthy changes to the food options and saw similar results. By making healthier foods and drinks more visible, customers naturally consumed healthier foods.

The foods we eat are mainly dictated by how visible it is.

Stop testing your willpower all day by having unhealthy, high calorie foods in your house and visible. 

Remove willpower by getting rid of junk food or making it very hard to see and get to. Replace those foods with highly visible, easy to access healthy foods and snacks like fruit, vegetables, and lean protein.

3| De-Stress and Sleep Better

Want to make it very hard to have willpower and make favorable decisions? Sleep less and stress more.

Both a lack of sleep and and increase in stress effects our prefrontal cortex. That is the area of our brains that is in charge of decision making and the thoughts that align with our goals.

When you're tired and stressed you're going to make the decision that is the easiest and requires the least amount of energy, not the one that aligns with your goals.

Not sleeping well? Create a sleep ritual that gets you ready for bed. Checkout some great tips, HERE.

Stressed? Create a 5-10 minute meditation ritual when you wake up or before bed.

4| Schedule Your Workouts

A study that aimed to get close to 300 people exercising split the participants up into 3 equal size groups.

Group 1: Researchers asked them to track when they exercised for the length of the study.

Group 2: Researchers also asked them to track when they exercised but also sent them motivational material such as the numerous health and weight-loss benefits of exercise for the length of the study.

Group 3: Researchers also sent them the motivational material but had them create a weekly plan for when and where they would exercise. Each participant completed the following sentence each week: "During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on this day ______, at this time _______, at this place _______.

What did the researchers find at the end of the study?

30-35% of participants from groups 1 and 2 started exercising at least once per week. Also to note, there wasn't much of a difference between groups 1 and 2.

91% of participants from group 3 exercised at least once per week though. This is more than double the percentage of groups 1 and 2!

What's the difference?

Group 3 didn't need to use willpower to start their workout each day. 

Scheduling the time, date, and place removed all willpower to workout. It removed all decision making and made it a normal part of their day like a scheduled meeting or appointment.

Ready to get your health and fitness routine started? 

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