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Control Yourself! How Willpower Begets Willpower
Somehow I have this idea of myself as someone with a lot of willpower. I think it was those three months or so when I was a vegan. Let me tell you something about being vegan. It’s terrible. All I could think about was cheese. Let me tell you something about soy cheese. It’s terrible.
Anyway, since those days something has happened to my willpower-power. It’s not just food, either. Lately I find I’m having a hard time sticking to a budget, for example, or–here’s a big one–maintaining my temper when my 2-year-old does exasperating 2-year-old things.
Could it be that I’m simply out of practice? That after years of cheese-devouring and budget-ignoring I’ve actually lost my ability to control myself? Actually, yes! This according to psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and science writer John Tierney in their new book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. They recently told NPR’s Audie Cornish that the power to resist temptation, whether that means eschewing dairy from your diet or the word “like” from your speech, is tantamount to what Tierney calls “a muscle that can be strengthened with use.”
So how can I stop eating cookies for breakfast and still have the patience by bedtime to weather my kid’s expert sleep-filibusters? The answer (like the answer, unfortunately, to everything) seems to be: exercise. The authors found that we essentially need to put our willpower-brain-muscles through resistance training. So whether your ultimate goal is to watch less reality television or go to the gym every day or make time to write that novel chapter, the key is to practice controlling yourself in little ways every day.
Ready to start willpower-building boot camp? Check out what Tierney told NPR, including, "Most religions have prayers you say, exercises, meditations you do, all those things build up that self-control." The non-religious among us can practice our willpower by "not using contractions when you speak, only speaking in complete sentences, saying no instead of nah, don't use profanities...all these things require mental effort." Small efforts like this will help us with the larger shifts we want to make.
Now let us go forth and train.
Ways to maintain your willpower throughout the day.
How to make real changes in your own life.
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