Willpower is a key trait that has an immense effect on our daily lives. Without its presence, we are often at the whim of short-term pleasure, gratification, and sustenance. However, while it is not a trait that is equally shared among each of us, it can be built up over time by achieving bigger and bigger goals. The key thing with having willpower is that you have to start small and work upwards to really make a big impact in your life. Depending upon what goal or result you are trying to achieve, you have to set your willpower to be in line with that timeline to achieve it.
For example, if I want to become a consistent runner to become healthier, should I start out one day with a five-mile run of less than an hour? No, because it’s not necessary and you’ll often suffer for setting your sights too high. If you’re just starting out with it, it’s best to build up your willpower over time by building up your capacity and your progress. Having long-term willpower takes short-term success and this example is no different really from others.
If I am just starting out with running, I don’t go for five miles at first and almost an hour of running. You want to start small and build up to your final goal of five miles. It may take you a month or two to reach it, but you will be satisfied knowing that you got out of the house and achieved something. Perhaps in the first week, you ran once for ten minutes and it was a little over a mile within your neighborhood. That is something to be proud of! You need that initial spark to keep the flame within you rising over time.
Building up your willpower requires incremental change that is often measured and compared with your results getting better and better over time. After that first week, maybe you run twice the second week and run each time for 15 minutes for 1 ½ miles. Then, by the third and fourth week, you build up to three times a week for about 20 minutes. By the end of the first month, you should get to about the halfway point or more by running a couple of times per week for about a half an hour.
Sometimes, your goals such as running five miles may take a month, three months, or even a year. Everybody is different but having a basic sense of willpower will help launch your goals forward and keep you on a path where you are changing yourself a bit at a time. Thinking yourself as a failure for not reaching your given goal after a few weeks, a month, or even a couple of months is immensely counterproductive. Each week, you want to be making strides to build up your willpower as a muscle that is constantly flexed out to become stronger over time.
Consistency is key for becoming better with willpower and it also comes with exercising restraint. You have to be aware also of the consequences of your actions ahead of time. Eating chocolate ice cream before bed might feel really good in the short-term but you might not be able to fall asleep that easily and wake up the next day feeling hydrated and groggy. You know it feels really good to take out your phone when you’re out with friends to get a small dopamine hit of attention but you know you might be disappointing the people you’re out with and consciously decide to keep that phone in your pocket or purse.
Having good willpower, in my opinion, takes both consistency and awareness. You have to be consistent in building it up over time like you would with your muscles by working out at the gym. The second part is a lot more difficult in that you have to be aware of the consequences of your actions when you fail to exercise your willpower as you would normally. You also should not be too hard on yourself when building up your willpower. There will be times when you fail, when you get discouraged, when you feel like giving up but don’t.
Give yourself time to decompress, to relax, and to think about how you can improve with it. On those days you fail, think consciously about why it is you failed and how you can succeed in the future. You don’t have to be striving to be better 100% of the time with your will but if you can put in more than average effort over time, then you will definitely see positive results. When you commit yourself to a goal, stay at it and realize that consistent action and knowledge of the consequences of doing nothing will help see you forward.
Perhaps most importantly, find those family members and friends willing to support you with whatever you’re going to do. If you have a positive goal for yourself and you want their support, they should definitely be behind you and giving you words of encouragement. If they want to track your progress with you, then they should be able to do so to hold you accountable. Without pressuring you too much or faulting you for coming up short, please make sure that they are behind you for the right reasons. If you want to better yourself in some way and reach your goals by improving your willpower, they should want that for you and not judge you for making that your personal prerogative.
Willpower is important for a number of reasons but the main one is because it is the key to unlocking your full potential. It all starts with your mind and your decision to change something about yourself. Exercising your willpower is definitely like exercising your muscles. You have to do it consistently and with good effort to start achieving noticeable results. You have to be aware of what your final goal is and to strive towards reaching it. Even if you fall short, you can take pride in knowing that you are now better off than you were a few weeks ago, a few months ago, or even a few years ago. You can see that your willpower is improving when you start to see incremental progress in where you are at as opposed to where you were when you started. Each conscious effort we do each day takes some amount of willpower and that is why it is so important to improve upon.
Whether it is going to the gym, having a healthier diet, learning a new language, taking better care of your home or apartment, willpower is a key part of achieving any of these measurable goals. Without exercising your willpower, you will not go anywhere with these practical goals. You have to be willing to sacrifice some short-term pleasures to achieve these long-term results. You may have to cut a few people out of your life as well if they are not supportive of your goals or actively preventing you from reaching them. You also may find that your own identity will change because of your newfound habits but that I believe is a good thing as we cannot stay stagnant throughout our lives and must always be moving forward.