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Brighter Outlook: building super willpower

By West Briton  |  Posted: July 31, 2014

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WE NEED willpower in many aspects of life, whether it be cutting back on snacks, booze or watching TV, or trying to develop new habits, such as exercise or better time-management.

The problem is that willpower is not that powerful. And all of the evidence suggests that, like a battery, it drains away through the day. So, how can we strengthen willpower?

Firstly, try to build some exercise habits.

Psychologists call exercise a 'keystone' habit. What that means is that when we start to exercise regularly, it has a spin-off effect in that it will make it more likely that we build up other habits.

So, the research tells us that people who exercise are more likely to eat better, spend less, or work more productively, and so on.

Secondly, if you plan to do an important task requiring willpower, do it first thing in the morning.

Because energy drains away quite rapidly most lapses in habits, like breaking a diet, take place later in the day.

Next, and this is a weird one, tense your muscles.

Yes, research suggests tensing muscles before a task increases determination. So, for example, in research studies, people clenching their fists or tensing their leg muscles would persist for longer in difficult tasks. Even being told to 'sit up straight' produces more perseverance.


It would appear that 'steely muscles' lead to 'steely resolve'.

If you want to use willpower to resist a craving then telling yourself to wait "just ten more minutes" can be effective.

Research suggests that saying, "not now but later" is a more effective strategy than saying, "no, you can't have that".

Finally, remember willpower is like a muscle.

The more you use it, the stronger it will get.

■ For NHS funded therapy for stress, anxiety or depression, phone (01208) 871905 or contact help@outlooksw.co.uk

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