Top 8 Willpower-Building Exercises That Work

by The Relationship Guy
December 2, 2016

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In this post, we will look at the Top 8 Willpower-Building Exercises That Work.

Research has shown that it takes on average 66 days to form a habit.

That’s more than 2 months of establishing a habit until it reaches what experts call, automaticity.

After that, your brain will “think” about your new habit less and less and simply do it like on autopilot.

However, before you reach the magic number of 66 days (on average), you will have to rely on something else to get you through.

We call that “something,” willpower!

Willpower has been the subject of many research studies and these studies show that willpower can be developed with the proper exercises.

Building willpower takes time, however.

But making the time to do that will benefit you in the long run as willpower gives you the ability to direct your life, resist unproductive urges, and take appropriate action.

We need willpower to some extent and will always benefit from learning how to build it.

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“Resisting the urge!”

Develop your willpower with these proven techniques:

Learn to manage stress more effectively.

When willpower is called into play, there are two opposing forces:

The desire to either do something or to avoid something, and the option of doing something.

The greater the stress caused by this internal conflict, the more willpower you need to take the more appropriate action.

Stress depletes willpower.

Stress can also cause you to choose the option with the greater short-term rewards, regardless of the long-term consequences.

This means, the worst your day, the greater the chances of you eating that piece of chocolate after dinner at night, or sitting on the couch instead of reading something to improve your knowledge.

Thus, by learning to lower your stress levels, you increase both the amount of willpower available to you and the effectiveness of that willpower.

Here are some strategies how to deal with stress effectively to help boost your willpower.

Make your own deadlines.

Pledge to clean out the garage by Saturday afternoon. Or decide that you’ll complete your taxes by March 15th.

Studies have shown this to be an effective way to build willpower.

We are more inclined to follow through on tasks when connected to a specific deadline.

The act of following through in turn builds willpower.

Create positive habits, one by one.

Create a small, positive habit. For example, do one pushup after brushing your teeth, or drink a glass of water first thing in the morning while you’re making a cup of coffee.

You don’t need much willpower to do a single pushup or drink a glass of water. 

The advantage is, once you have a simple habit in place, you can build on what you’ve done.

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It’s important to understand, however, that small positive habits don’t build willpower. They circumvent the need for it completely.

And that’s what we want.

Getting our brain to the place where it doesn’t need to use a massive amount of brainpower to do something.

We wanted to be automatic.

That’s when we have the best chance of sustaining a certain behaviour.

Boost your mood.

Creating an empowering emotional state is the key to success. When we feel good and positive, willpower is much more at our disposal than when we feel down or stressed.

Therefore, build strategies into your day or week to uplift your spirits and create a positive mood.

Watch a funny movie. Think about something that makes you happy. Spend time with your kids in a playful setting. Or leave the kids with a babysitter and go on a date with your spouse and enjoy each other’s company.

Making the effort to create a lighter mood and more empowering emotional state, will cause willpower to be more at your disposal when you need it.

Get more sleep.

I’ve seen many clients over the years, and whenever they are sleep deprived it makes everything else a lot harder.

As people, we need sufficient sleep to function properly and make good decisions.

Willpower is dependent on rest.

With this being said, however, I appreciate that life has different seasons and we don’t always have control over our environment.

Just ask any young parent with a baby struggling with colic, and they will tell you all about it.

Other times, specific projects in your business or career, can demand more time which means less sleep.

However, this should not be the rule in your life.

You have to try and get as much sleep as possible in order to perform at your highest level.

It is also a well-known fact that too little sleep impacts the part of the brain responsible for decision-making.

Therefore, strive to get at least seven hours of sleep each night.

Practice some form of Meditation 

Studies have shown meditation to enhance stress management and focus.

But it has also been shown to increase willpower.

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Practising meditation for only a couple of months can provide a significant change in your ability to control your behaviour, as it heightens your awareness, mindfulness, and focus.

Here are a couple of ideas to assist you with mindfulness, staying present, and focus.

Press forward even when you don’t feel like it

At this moment, your reserve of willpower may be limited, but you can learn to maximise what you have.

Forcing yourself to continue when you feel like stopping is one of the easiest ways to build your willpower muscles.

Imagine that you want to stop cleaning the house, or writing a report, or exercising.

Instead of allowing yourself to quit, force yourself to continue for another 10 minutes.

That’s all.

After a few weeks, increase the time to 20 minutes.

Pretty soon, you’ll become a master at pushing through the urge to quit.

One of the most insightful talks I’ve seen on this is called “How to Stop Screwing Yourself over” by Mel Robbins.

Pay attention to your posture.

In one interesting study, it was shown that paying attention to your posture for two weeks enhanced scores on several willpower tests.

What could be more simple?

Whenever you catch yourself slouching, correct yourself, and stand or sit up straight.

Physiology plays a major role in inducing emotional states.

These days the mind-body connection is common knowledge.

What it basically shows us is, your body (muscles, posture, body language etc.) impacts your mental state (thoughts, feelings, focus,  attitude etc.) just as much as your mind impacts your body (for example depressed thoughts causing physical fatigue and need to sleep all the time).

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You can literally change how you feel by “manipulating” your physiology, i.e. moving your body in a different way (like changing your posture).

When you use certain techniques like, power stances, you can induce confidence and willpower (even if you didn’t feel that way initially).

He is a good TED talk on “Power Poses” by Amy Cuddy that you can watch.

In conclusion …

What would you do if you had more willpower?

Remember that willpower is never in abundance, but you can build your reserves.

The key is to use your willpower wisely.

For example, tackle your most important tasks early in the day when your willpower is high while scheduling the less important or easier to do tasks for later on today (like after lunch).

You will find by making this small adjustment to your says your schedule, your productivity will automatically increase.

Also, spend a small amount of time each day enhancing your willpower by using some of the techniques mentioned.

Building willpower is like building a muscle – a little bit of training every day goes a long way in the end.

Put yourself in situations where you are forced to use your willpower, and thereby building it for when it really required in the future.

If you have any comments or questions, please leave them below or get in touch.

I hope this served you in some way.

About the author 

The Relationship Guy

Gideon Hanekom is the founder of TheRelationshipGuy.com, a top-50 relationship blog (2021) and top-100 marriage blog (2021) which focuses on providing healthy relationship advice about love and life. He earned a Master's degree in theological studies before training as a professional counsellor and hypnotherapist (DipProfCouns., DipMSHT.) almost 10 years ago. He completed a graduate diploma in Psychology and is currently pursuing postgraduate Psychology studies at Massey University. He has been married to his wife for over sixteen years and is the dad of two children. His articles have been published on Marriage.com and The Good Men Project.

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