Many of my clients come to me and ask how they can have more self control in breaking what they perceive as a bad habit. This could be in the form of smoking, eating too much, laziness including lack of exercise and even things such as personality disorders. We all know what it’s like to make a New Year’s Resolution only to break it within a week or two of 1st January. We tend to take the view that as we are not alone in breaking these resolutions and assume it’s not as bad for us as we once thought. Although you may not be alone in having a perceived bad habit, just by making a resolution you obviously realise that you want to change your habit. The following article will only help people who want to change themselves and are not being forced into it by a partner, child or friend.
So we often bandy about the word “willpower” and what it means. We often couple it with words such as self-control or bad habit or lack of determination and all these words make the brain go into cycles of guilt or shame which ultimately result in avoidance. So how do we realise that words such as willpower and determination are extremely positive words and easily attainable by all of us? At the end of the day, willpower is just a measurement of how well you achieve that on which you intend on doing and as we have seen in other articles such as Five Steps to a Better Life, willpower is quite easily achieved over a matter of just a few days.
It is scary to think that 8 out of 10 people who decide to change a bad habit fail to do so by any given length of time. It is interesting to note that this is down to a particular area of the brain which is located in the front part which is often referred to as the prefrontal cortex. It’s this area that helps you solve problems, keep focused, and create logical thought patterns. So you would think that given it’s function, willpower would be very easy. The catch here is the prefrontal cortex is also involved in short term memory so what happens here is if you try and use willpower, focus and short term memory at the same time your body and brain finds it hard to multitask. It really is as simple as that.
So what is the solution I hear you ask? Well, just like any other muscle in the body, willpower just needs to be trained and exercised. It really is that simple to increase and strengthen that part of your brain and allow it to get used to multitasking. The best way to go about this is to set small achievable challenges (or daily goals if you prefer to call them) and make sure that no matter what you get them done. For example, for someone who is depressed and finds it hard to get up, get dressed and go to work and as such has taken off time from work, it is useful to draw up a chart of all the things you need to do to achieve your goal. For example:-
1. Get up
2. Get dressed
3. Put make-up on
4. Leave the house
5. Walk to the end of the road
6. Catch a bus/tube/train
7. Arrive at work and be sociable
So if you take each point in turn and just add one point to your goal list each day, you will find that in just over a week you are able to actually get yourself out of bed and go to work. Likewise for those of you who want to add the gymn into your routine, it is also possible to write a list of goals. So perhaps your goals would be:-
1. Buy stuff for the gym
2. Pack a bag
3. Get in your car/train/bus/tube
4. Get to the gym
5. Do a work-out of up to an hour
6. Return home
Likewise, if you take each one of these little steps in turn, so on Monday just pack your bag ready for the gym but don’t actually go. On Tuesday pack your bag and walk to the end of the road with your backpack ready for the gym and then do nothing else. On Wednesday, pack your bag, walk to the end of the road, go to the gym, turn round and go home. By the time the end of the week comes, you’ll have found that you will have probably got to the gym and done 10 minutes and then gone home. Then using the 10% rule of going up just a little each time that you feel, whether you go from 10 minutes to 15 or 20, or by the time you are on about 50 minutes you just go up in increments of 10 % and you’ll find that each and every day, you’re getting used to going to the gym and finding it within yourself to actually accomplish a lot more than you thought.
The same is relevant for food. If you know your daily intake is 3000 calories, each day just reduce your calorie intake by about 5%. So if your calorie intake is 3000, just every day reduce it by about 150 calories and before long you’ll realise that you’re only taking in 2000 calories and you haven’t even noticed any negative effects on how you feel or whether you missed the surplus food.
By working on small tasks and baby steps then sizeable goals, no matter how lazy or reluctant you feel or even if you’re hard on yourself by suggesting you have lack of willpower, you will be able to overcome any resistance that either your body or mind has to exercise, food, work or the likes and you can actually train your mind to do exactly what you want it to do.
Now in some cases such as the earlier example of depression, it’s not as straightforward as just beating willpower and it often calls for extra help. A life coach, a psychotherapist, a hypnotherapist or just a friend can be very useful to give you that added extra boost to help you focus on how you want to lead the rest of your life. So just take a step today and make a commitment to at least writing a list of between 7 to 10 things you will need to accomplish in order for your goal to be realised. The last commitment I will ask of you is to just take each one of those goals in turn one-by-one and add them to your daily schedule so that in 1 to 2 weeks you will be on your way to beating willpower and becoming, dare I say it, a high achiever.
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