Struggling to stay on track?
When we’re trying to achieve our goals, it can sometimes feel like we’re constantly fighting ourselves. For example, when we’re on a diet, we might feel like we have to fight the urge to order dessert, or if we’re on an exercise training programme, we have to force ourselves to get up off the sofa and go for a run.
We call this ‘willpower’.
Willpower is like a muscle – it’s not something that you have automatically, rather it’s something you have to train yourself to be able to do. It’s much easier to lie on the sofa watching TV than to go for 10 km run, but we force ourselves to do it because we know it’s good for us. If willpower were an innate ability, everyone would be able to get up off the sofa, but we know that’s not the case.
Plenty of people don’t force themselves to exercise because they don’t like it, or it’s hard – simply put, their ‘willpower’ isn’t strong enough to make them do something they don’t like, even if they know and want the long term benefits. This is not to imply that everyone should exercise (indeed, for some people it’s not safe to do certain things), or that anyone who doesn’t do it is lazy or weak – no one should be forced to do something they don’t want to even if it’s good for them. Rather, willpower is not an innate ability – it’s something that you have to work on.
So how can we improve willpower when it’s not as strong as we’d like it to be, or if we’re struggling to reach our goals?
1. Imagine Your Success
When building willpower, your imagination can be a powerful tool.
Whatever your goal, the temptation to stray from the path you’ve set yourself will come up along the way – so be prepared for it. Instead of ignoring the craving or temptation, address it. If you can imagine yourself as you will be when you achieve your goal, you’ll stimulate your desire to achieve it, which can help you overrule the temptation to ‘cheat’.
2. Diversion Tactics
No matter how hard we try, often negative thoughts can creep up on us. This is the little voice that tells us we ‘can’t’, that we’re ‘weak’, and that we should ‘just give up now’. One trick to improve willpower in the face of these thoughts is to train yourself to respond to them by focusing on something else. If every time you realise you’re thinking this way, you think of something that makes you happy, eventually it will become an instinctive response to distract you from your negativity.
3. Build Good Habits
Habits are notoriously difficult to break, so if you can form good ones when you’re feeling strong, it’s going to be easier to keep going when you feel like you want to give up!
4. Set Realistic Goals
It’s easy to get caught up in your ‘big picture’, overall goal, but often focusing on that might not be the best approach. Your end goal can often seem too far away or unattainable, particularly in moments when you’re not feeling as dedicated as you’d like. Instead, if you set smaller, more achievable targets, taking it one step at a time, you may find it easier to stay on track. For example, losing 1lb a week is easier than ‘losing 2 stone’.
5. Don’t Give Up When You Slip
This is the most important point on this list.
It’s so easy to feel like we’ve failed when we have a day where we don’t meet our own expectations, and it can be tempting to give up altogether. Diets are famous for this – you’re ‘good’ all week, then binge at the weekend and give up because you feel like you’ve undone all that good work.
No one is good all the time. Everyone has days where they don’t meet their goals. What separates the successful is that they don’t give up each time they mess up. They pick themselves up, promise to try again tomorrow, and set themselves back on track.
In the words of Scarlet O’Hara, tomorrow is another day.