In our last segment on self growth, today we explore WILLPOWER.
Patanjali says “Yoga chitta vritti nirodha” or yoga is the cessation of the whirlpool of thoughts from the mind, intellect and ego complex. He always suggests two ways of doing this
- Practice or Abhayasa
- Detachment or Vairagya
And interestingly both require cultivation of strong , unshakable and determined will power. Indriyajayah or will power is to have control over ones senses and make right choices repeatedly over long periods of time.
(indriya- senses of knowledge and senses of action ; jayaj: victory over the senses)
What is will power?
Will power is the ability to control yourself: Strong determination that allows you to do something difficult; that pushes you to push the envelope.
The willpower response is a reaction to an internal conflict. You want to do one thing, such as smoke a cigarette or supersize your lunch, but know you shouldn’t. Or you know you should do something, like file your taxes or go to the gym, but you’d rather do nothing.
Use It or Lose It, But Don’t Overdo It
You undoubtedly already know these facts about muscles:
- Muscles get stronger when exercised.
- Muscles can be overworked, leaving them weak until they have a chance to recover.
What you may not know is that these things are also true of willpower.
How to Strengthen Your Willpower
1. Increase your capacity for pressure: Learn how to manage stress
To start with, we need to manage our stress levels. Being under high levels of stress means that our body’s energy is used up in acting instinctively and making decisions based on short-term outcomes. Our prefrontal cortex loses out in the battle for our energy when high-stress is involved.
Stopping to take a few deep breaths when we feel overwhelmed or tempted can be a great start in managing our stress levels and improving our willpower.
2. Encourage yourself to stick to your plan
To make it even easier, it appears that self-affirmation can even help you to have more self-control when you’re running out, according to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. A good example of this is the difference between telling yourself “I can’t” and “I don’t.” Taking back control of the situation using the phrase “I don’t” has been shown to be more effective at helping you to stick to your plan and break bad habits:
Every time you tell yourself “I can’t”, you’re creating a feedback loop that is a reminder of your limitations. This terminology indicates that you’re forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do.
So try telling yourself that you don’t do that bad habit, rather than punishing yourself by saying “I can’t.”
3. Get more sleep to help your brain manage energy better
Getting enough sleep makes a big difference to how efficiently our prefrontal cortex works:
Sleep deprivation (even just getting less than six hours a night) is a kind of chronic stress that impairs how the body and brain use energy. The prefrontal cortex is especially hard hit and it loses control over the regions of the brain that create cravings and the stress response.
When the sleep-deprived catch a better night’s sleep, their brain scans no longer show signs of prefrontal cortex impairment. People who sleep between 6.5 hours and 7.5 hours a night, live the longest, are happier and most productive.
Meditation has also been linked to increasing the reserve of willpower we have available, as well as improving attention, focus, stress management and self-awareness.
And it doesn’t take a lifetime of practice — brain changes have been observed after eight weeks of brief daily meditation training.
5. Better exercise and nutrition: The most ignored route to higher willpower
Another great way to train the brain, that is often easily ignored or undervalued, yet can make you a lot more resilient to stress, and thus boost willpower, is regular physical exercise. Both relaxing, mindful exercise like yoga and intense physical training can provide these benefits.
As I mentioned earlier, what you feed your body affects how much energy the prefrontal cortex has to work with. This is why nutrition is so important:
Something as simple as eating a more plant-based, less-processed diet makes energy more available to brain and can improve every aspect of willpower.
Not only will exercise and good nutrition improve your willpower, but they’ll make you feel better as well. Exercise in particular is known for making us happy by releasing endorphins:
These endorphins tend to minimize the discomfort of exercise, block the feeling of pain and are even associated with a feeling of euphoria.
6. Postpone things for later to gain focus on what’s important now
Postponing something you really shouldn’t have can be effective if you’re trying to break a bad habit. In Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, Roy F. Baumeister explains that people who tell themselves “not now, but later,” are generally less tormented by the temptation of something they are trying to avoid (his example is eating chocolate cake).
I am certain these simple tips will help you overcome low will power and enable you to make correct choices.
See you next week where we will explore another segment towards becoming the best version of ourselves.
Until then, happiness and sunshine