Science has turned its attention of late to the study of willpower, and it should be no surprise that research has shown that self-control is a better predictor of college grades than IQ or SAT scores. Self-control, willpower and self-discipline can all be grouped collectively as life management skills, and if such skills are so crucial to living a successful, happy life, how can we go about amassing and honing these vital skills? There is much evidence that self-control is akin to a mental muscle, sharing several characteristics with physical muscles.
1. In the short run, willpower can be depleted. Keeping your patience in a trying situation can leave you temporarily emotionally depleted and more likely to yield to the temptation for a snack. Pace yourself, allow time to re-charge. Awareness of when you need to pause, recuperate, rejuvenate, and replenish your energy is vital. Take time outs as needed. A short walk, a quick pick-me-up conversation with a high-energy friend, a glass of green tea, some fruit and yogurt, a favorite quote or poem or inspirational passage, a bit of day-dreaming: observe yourself, learn what healthy things restore you, and use them to guide you to where your best self wants to take you.
2. In the long run, willpower can be built up through training and cultivation of
– good habits
– reinforcing routines
– seeking out supportive environments
– removing negative stimuli (no snacks at home)
– immersing yourself in positive triggers (inspirational reading, upbeat people)
– focusing on inspirational role models and motivational goals
– surrounding yourself with like minded associates
– and choosing encouraging friends who validate your efforts and celebrate your progress
3. Like physical muscles, mental muscles are impacted by our glucose levels and our general level of healthy nutrition, fitness, and attitude. Mind and body are connected in a strong feedback loop.
“I am, indeed, a king, because I know how to rule myself.” — Pietro Aretino, Italian playwright and poet; 1492–1556
“First we make our habits, then our habits make us.” — Charles C. Noble; 1812–1885