Uninspired? Lazy? How to be a Master of Willpower

You probably know someone who just always gets things done; they seem to possess infinite supplies of energy and willpower (and time), and every task that they put their mind to it, they somehow accomplish. You get tired just being around them. These people, maybe, seem very different from you. Maybe you’re envious of them, maybe you wish you were as productive or inspired or resourceful; you want to be one of these people, though you believe you never can be. You’re too tired. Or lazy. Or stressed. Or busy.

Well, I’m telling you right now that you are one of those people. Or, at the very least, you possess all the resources required to become one of those people. Like a muscle, willpower can be flexed, it can be exercised, and it can grow. Admittedly, some of these people may have been born with a propensity towards willpower and determination, but they too have had to develop and grow these traits. They too had days where they feel lazy and uninspired. So much of today’s research in fields of psychology and spirituality has been dedicated to understanding what motivates us—and what holds us back. I have gathered some of the key findings from some of the most important and influential investigations into the mystery of willpower; they will not only motivate and inspire you, but provide you with the means to get started on expanding and strengthening your will and determination right now and for the rest of your life.

  1. Start small. Seriously.

Perhaps this is a familiar scenario: it’s Sunday evening, you’re at home and feeling bad about yourself for not getting done half of what you had planned on accomplishing: you didn’t go to that spin class. You didn’t eat salad instead of pizza. You didn’t do your taxes. Your laundry lies in an unwashed pile on your un-vacuumed floor. So you vow to yourself that tomorrow you’ll go to the gym before work, you’ll only eat foods of the green and leafy variety, you’ll do your taxes, you’ll wash your clothes and your sheets and your floor and your dog. You are beyond motivated.

And then the morning hits and you can barely muster the energy to get out of bed, never mind get out of bed to go hit the treadmill; you are completely overwhelmed by everything you had vowed you would do. There isn’t enough time in the day. You’re so tired and you haven’t even started!

Dr. Denise Cummins, a psychologist and writer for Psychology Today, urges us to start small when exercising our willpower; she states that “While…exercising self-control is a great way to build willpower, never giving yourself a break is a good way to deplete your resolve.” So don’t exhaust your reserves all in one go and don’t scare yourself, contemplating all of the things that need to get done yesterday, and how you’re never going to achieve your dreams and your world will literally implode, etc. Prioritize one task and dedicate yourself to it, and you’ll find that doing that one thing will not only make you feel super accomplished, but it will refresh your willpower for tomorrow. Speaking of which…

  1. Sleep

You’re probably so tired of sleep, am I right? We know we should do it, but for something that is so necessary and seemingly essential, it can be so difficult. Think of sleep as the willpower supplement that does all the work for you! Not only does a lack of sleep literally sap you of the energy needed to exercise self-control and willpower, it has also been shown to diminish activity in our prefrontal cortexes—the part of our brain that controls our rational thought and decision-making. Sleep has been shown to be especially correlated with decision-making when it comes to food—which makes sense, considering that food, like sleep, is a source of energy.

  1. Meditation and mindfulness

I am no stranger to the paralyzing anxiety that results when contemplating all of the things I want/need to get done. I feel completely unprepared and confused and overwhelmed by the prospect of these tasks and the more I think about them, the more rapidly my willpower depletes; but it is not the tasks themselves that create anxiety. Anxiety arises from thinking about them. As Eckhart Tolle notes, “Stress comes from being somewhere and wanting to be elsewhere.” So give your brain a recess and don’t think, and if only for five minutes, be entirely present in the moment that you are inhabiting. And then just do it—don’t think about it. Go to the gym. Wash your dishes. Let one moment in which you are entirely present lead into another.

      1. Make it a habit

So if we only have a limited amount of willpower that we can expend every day—a budget, if you will—how can we make the most of what we have? By forming habits. Consider the way that you (probably) brush your teeth every morning and get dressed and go to work. Most of the time, these tasks are automatic; you don’t need to think about them or force yourself to do it. This can be the same for exercise or cleaning or eating healthy or whatever it is that you are trying to accomplish. You probably find that motivating yourself to do something is a lot harder than actually doing the thing—which is why having an external motivating force—maybe a tough-love friend or a personal trainer or a deadline—can be useful, especially in the beginning of forming a habit. Once this new behavior is a habit, there is no need to expend any willpower to motivate yourself to do it! So, yes, it will get easier, I promise!

So, remember, if you want to maximize your willpower: Go slow. Sleep. Be present. And perform one small change a day to establish positive habits that will endure today, tomorrow, and into the future.

Author: Michael Arteaga