As another year starts, you like many, may have already made your new year’s resolutions for your health and well-being. Unlike last year, you are really determined and this year is going to be different! Unfortunately, your willpower is already being tested and you are not even close to achieving your goal. Why does this happen? Is there anything you can do to improve your success? But first, what exactly is willpower? It can also been known as determination, drive, resolve, self-discipline and self-control. Psychologist define willpower as our ability to resist short term temptation in order to meet long-term goals and the capacity to override an unwanted thought, feeling or impulse.

Science and Willpower

Many people believe that you either have willpower or you don’t! Psychological research has found that may not be the case. What has the research discovered about willpower?
Willpower is thought to be controlled by the front of the brain or the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is believed to control planning complex cognitive behaviours, personality expression, decision making and moderate social behaviours. This brain region is considered to plan our thoughts and actions in accordance with our internal goals. The brain is a high-energy organ, powered by a steady supply of glucose. Some researchers have proposed that brain cells working hard to maintain self-control consume glucose faster than it can be replenished. Exerting a lot of self-control takes a lot of energy. This means you are more likely to have stronger willpower at the start of the day. Just like our muscles fatigue, so can willpower if you have to exert a lot of self-control during the day. As with exercise, when you give your body the right fuel, your willpower will be stronger.

Improving Willpower

So you think you need more willpower to achieve your health and well-being new year’s resolutions? The good news is there are some simple things you can do to improve your willpower.

  • Think big and think small. Say, your new year’s resolution to lose 20kg! Why not break the goal down into all the small behaviour changes ie walk more, increase fruit and vegie intake etc. Pick the easiest of these small behaviours and focus on that one initially. Once a good habit is in place you will no longer need to draw on your willpower to maintain that behaviour. Then you can move on the next behaviour. Eventually, healthy habits will be normal and won’t require any of your willpower.
  • Maintain blood sugar levels, so before you go grabbing a can of coke or sweets, healthy natural low GI sugars are a better choice to maintain your blood sugar levels.
  • Avoiding temptation out of sight out of mind. If you are trying to reduce your sweets intake, then try to reduce how much you have in the house. Or even better don’t even buy them to begin with.
  • High motivation can help overcome weakened willpower. Sit down and write down some answers to questions. Why do you want to achieve this goal? How are you going to feel once you achieve it?  Place these answers somewhere visible at home ie the bathroom mirror.
  • Regularly exerting self-control. Just like going the gym will improve your strength. By frequently successfully exercising your willpower it too with improve its strength.

So don’t give up on your new year’s resolutions just yet!  Just apply these simple actions to develop your willpower and those once tough choices will become easier to make.