A little warning, this is long but it has a ton of valuable information.
By the time you are done, you will learn:
- The #1 key to happiness – It will surprise you, I promise
- Which is better – motivation or willpower
- How to cultivate more willpower so you can achieve big things
Are you ready to get started?
THE KEY TO HAPPINESS
I found in reading over 70 books on the subject that there were several themes that all point back to living our best life. And how do we do that? By expressing the best version of ourselves in every moment.
Now I get that is a very vague instruction on how to be happy. And as I began to dig deeper, I found that the best version of ourselves is expressed through certain attitudes – twelve of them in fact. I like to call these the twelve attitudes of happiness and you can learn more about them and a specific action in a free download by clicking below.
Here’s the thing. When who we are and who we are capable of being match magic happens. It’s then that we experience joy, enthusiasm, confidence and yes, even happiness. Unfortunately, for many of us what we are capable of being and what we are actually being don’t match. And there’s a gap. That’s when regret, worry, and anxiety happens. The bigger the gap, the bigger the feelings of longing for something more. So what’s the key to happiness?
The key to happiness is closing the gap.
HOW TO GET THERE
Well, honestly all you are doing in moving yourself back to center. You might be decreasing the amount of negativity but are you increasing the positivity? For instance, you might see articles like 10 Ways to End Overwhelm, or The 5 Steps to Stop Negative Thoughts and these are great to stop something but then what?
To be happier, to build on the attitudes, you need to go from negative to neutral and then move the needle into the positive. In order to move the needle, we have to focus on doing our best stuff. We need to make excellence a standard. But how do we do that? Is it motivation? Is it desire? Is there an incentive? Sure all of those things matter but what we really need is willpower.
THE IMPORTANCE OF WILLPOWER
There is a lot of science that supports the importance of willpower in getting what we want. In fact, there is a study that says willpower outperforms IQ in predicting academic performance 2:1. That means it doesn’t matter how smart you are if you have willpower you have the ability to outperform those that don’t – no matter how smart they are.
The good news is you can cultivate willpower and it’s that willpower that builds on your 12 happiness attitudes that will then close the gap between what you are capable of being and what you are actually being.
Willpower is what you need to close the gap.
So if closing the gap is the key to happiness, willpower’s the lock waiting for the key to open the door to your best life.
MOTIVATION VS. WILLPOWER
Really, anytime you are getting ready to create change, you can either get motivated (increase your desire to take action) or use willpower (force yourself to take action). Now when you look at that statement, it seems as if motivation is the obvious choice but is it?
By now, you should know it’s not. Any kind of change requires repetition and consistency to make the change permanent, and when your action is dependent on summoning up the motivation through self-talk, rewards or the gentle nudging of a friend, you will eventually blow them off.
Motivation is not reliable because it’s based on how you feel, and we’ve known for centuries that human feelings are not predictable and are easily influenced by outside factors. Now, while I am all about feelings, when you know you want to make the change, feelings should be left out of it. Because the change process is hard. And we don’t like hard. Knowing that – the clear choice becomes willpower but there’s a reason you don’t hear a lot about it.
Willpower is less comfortable and politically incorrect. You are forcing yourself to do something after all. – it’s forcing you to do things – things that might not make you feel good in that moment but will make you feel great when it’s all said and done.
Another reason willpower gets a bad rap is that people tend to bite off more than they can chew. Goals that are too big, drain willpower. Even if the big goal is spread out over time, the brain gets overwhelmed because it recognizes the goal in its whole, not the steps you will take or the time you have allowed yourself to get there.
Keep in mind that your brain resists change. It’s designed to resist change. Lasting change only happens after a lot of repetition. And it’s our willpower that helps you do whatever it is over and over again.The thing is when you use your willpower to force the action, the results that come from that action often will motivate you to keep going.
One of the best books I read on willpower is The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal. In the book she says…
We may all have been born with the capacity for willpower, but some of us use it more than others. People who have better control of their attention, emotions, and actions are better off almost any way you look at it. They are happier and healthier. Their relationships are more satisfying and last longer. They make more money and go further in their careers. They are better able to manage stress, deal with conflict, and overcome adversity. They even live longer. When pit against other virtues, willpower comes out on top. Self-control is a better predictor of academic success than intelligence (take that, SATs), a stronger determinant of effective leadership than charisma (sorry, Tony Robbins), and more important for marital bliss than empathy (yes, the secret to lasting marriage may be learning how to keep your mouth shut). If we want to improve our lives, willpower is not a bad place to start.
Bottom line: Willpower is huge. It is also our ability to exhibit self-control. She goes on to say willpower is a response that comes from both the brain and the body.
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.
There is plenty more good stuff in her book if willpower is a topic of interest, and it should be if I can be so blunt, then check out her book. For now, it’s important that you know, you use your willpower every time you say no to something you want, every time you hold your tongue in an argument and every time you stay off Facebook during work.
The good news is willpower is like a muscle. When you use it too much it gets tired and can slow you down. And just like the muscles in your body, you can strengthen it so it will work more effectively for longer periods of time.
1. Manage Your Stress
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 willpower will lose the battle for energy when we are in stressful situations.
Mindful breathing can be a huge help to lessen our stress and in situations when we feel overwhelmed. Taking a few minutes to slow down and breath can help reduce anxiety and calm our frantic brains which will improve willpower. Here is a link to an article with some helpful mindful breathing exercises that will help slow everything down and not only reserve your willpower but build on it too.
2. Stay the Course
When things go wrong our initial reaction is to make some sort of change to make it better. Making spur of the moment change causes stress, forces us to make decisions that are not well thought out and has us questioning everything around us while reacting to less than ideal situations. This kind of pressure wrecks havoc on our willpower.
The best way to build more willpower is move from a reactionary state of mind to a proactive state of mind. And that happens through constant observation and planning. This isn’t to say you can never change, it just means prepare and plan for it. Don’t react to every challenge that pops up. Instead, take it in and make decisions when you are armed with all the information. And this leads into our next tip …
3. Don’t Force a Decision
Taking action and making decisions is a part of life. But sometimes, it is better to let the decision-making wait. The pressure to not only make a decision but make the right decision weighs on our ability to think clearly. Postponing something can be effective in making rational decisions.
In his book 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 thing they are trying to avoid. It might be because you don’t have all the information, you aren’t looking forward to something you know will be unpleasant or you are unsure if you are on the right path.
All that uncertainty wrecks havoc on our willpower and can end up affecting what you are trying to accomplish. Let the decision happen when it feels right and don’t rush it.
4. Honor Your Sleep
You might know about my love affair with sleep. Once I found it and honored, it really did change my view on the world. But I’m not the only one that thinks so, Kelly McGonigal also says getting enough sleep makes a big difference to the strength of our willpower.
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. And you can’t have willpower without energy. And if you’re wondering how much sleep is enough, here’s a rough guide: one of the most acclaimed sleep researchers, Daniel Kripke, found in a recent study that “people who sleep between 6.5 hours and 7.5 hours a night, live the longest, are happier and most productive”.
5. Exercise and Eat Better
Exercise and good food can boost willpower. Both relaxing, mindful exercise like yoga and intense physical training can provide these benefits though McGonigal points out that we’re not sure why this works yet. What you feed your body affects how much energy you have and you can’t make a change and tap into your willpower to get things done without it.
It can be as simple as more plant-based food, less processed food, and half your weight in water. 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.
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. McGonigal suggests it begins to work immediately. And it doesn’t take a lifetime of practice — brain changes have been observed after eight weeks of brief daily meditation training of as little as 5 minutes.
A great place to start is with the mindful breathing practices I mentioned earlier. So you can probably see some commonality in the tips I have included to build willpower. It’s all about lessening the load on our overworking brains. Take time to slow down and watch your willpower grow. Use your willpower actively: plan, commit, and do. Baumeister says,
People with low willpower,use it to get themselves out of crises. People with high willpower use it not to get themselves into crises.
You can’t make a change, take an action and you certainly can’t close the gap without it. To start strengthing your willpower do one thing today. Start with one of the twelve actions that support the 12 happiness attitudes you can find in your free download.
As you start whatever action you choose, use the tips I mentioned here to help keep your willpower working for you as you make the change. And remember to pay attention to how you feel along the way.
THIS IS FUNNY – WATCH IT!
Now it’s time to bring a little humor into this discussion So I have included a video down below that gives a wonderful visual to willpower. There’s a famous experiment that tests kid’s willpower using marshmallows. This is a really funny video of what it can look like. I am sure you can relate to some of their expressions.