How come some people can stop at “just one bite” while others can’t keep their hands out of the cookie jar? According to Dr. Roy Baumeister, Director of Social Psychology at Florida State University, it is not necessarily from lack of willpower.
Baumeister’s research shows that willpower isn’t an invisible, mystical force that super models and go-getter billionaires are blessed with in abundance and regular folks just don’t have. He has hypothesized that willpower is like a muscle, and practicing self-control requires energy. If you don’t use your willpower wisely, it gets fatigued and fails on you. So, the next time you find yourself with an unwanted cookie in hand, remember this: your will is not weak. It is tired.
It takes practice to build habits that help keep your willpower strong. Try using these simple tricks to help maintain self-control on days when you need a boost:
1. Take a Nap
Stay rested. Sleep is crucial to good health. Experts tend to agree that getting about 7-8 hours a night of uninterrupted sleep is the best way to go for most adults. Not only does it help your systems function properly, it also helps with a clear head and strong mental faculties. For nights when this just isn’t possible or on days when you are feeling more exhausted than usual, a power nap can help your focus and recharge your willpower.
2. Ease Up on Yourself
Create balance. While setting boundaries and working towards goals is a positive thing, too much restriction can backfire. Don’t try to control every single thought, action, and emotion at once. Instead, come up with acceptable guidelines you can follow during times of stress or when things feel overwhelming. Concentrate on making a few tangible, healthy choices and let the rest be. This’ll keep your willpower from getting too fatigued on days when you don’t have enough energy to keep everything together.
Have a snack. Some researchers points to low blood sugar as a trigger for depleted willpower. Refueling on fruit, nuts, or other healthy snacks can help you avoid temptations and put a temporary end to struggles with self-control. Prepare things like cut up veggies or small bags full of almonds and raisins ahead of time in case of this type of emergency. Making sure to have easy snacks of bananas, apples, and other whole fruit at work, in your purse, or somewhere that is always accessible can also help you avoid the low blood sugar pitfall.
4. Hit the Reset Button
Let it go. You’ve made a few unhealthy choices today, so what? Don’t let this get in your way of finishing out the day in a healthy, positive way. Focus on the choices ahead of you and not the ones in your past. If you feel yourself spiraling out of control, take a break. Step outside and take a short walk, close your eyes and breathe deeply for a minute or two, shut your office door and listen to your favorite song without interruption. Do whatever you need to do to break the downward cycle and change the energy of the moment. Then, step back into your life and start over with a clean slate.