Making Changes For Good: Four Factors To Improve Will Power - Mercy Medical Center
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Making Changes For Good: Four Factors To Improve Will Power

Posted on: January 11, 2017

Many people make a list of changes they want to accomplish in their lives at the beginning of the year. The changes often last for a short time before fading away, no matter how much the change is desired. A person will then think, “I just don’t have enough will power,” and feel bad until the next year, when the cycle repeats. What can you do to increase the odds of making lasting change?

How to Keep New Year's Resolutions from Mercy Concern in Canton Ohio

I want to quit smoking—for good this time!  

I’m going to lose those last ten pounds.  

I’m going to be more patient with the kids…and maybe my husband, too.

I’m going to exercise every day and run that marathon this year.

Many people make a list of changes they want to accomplish in their lives at the beginning of the year. The changes often last for a short time before fading away, no matter how much the change is desired. A person will then think, “I just don’t have enough will power,” and feel bad until the next year, when the cycle repeats. What can you do to increase the odds of making lasting change?

Psychologist Kelly McGonigal has studied the research on will power to answer that question and has come up with useful information. 

Four Factors That Improve Will Power

First, she recommends four factors which improve our will power:

  1. Getting more sleep
  2. Meditating (for even a few minutes)
  3. Exercising
  4. Eating a low-glycemic and/or plant-based diet

She learned that adding any one of these four factors to your life increases your will power and adding more of them increases it even more. Of course, doing these things takes will power for most of us, yet doing any of them increases our will power, adding more will power than it takes to do it in the first place. In other words, once you get started, it’s easier to keep going!

Forgive Yourself for Slip-ups with Mindfulness, Compassion & Encouragement

The next thing her research found was forgiving yourself for the inevitable slip-ups is much more powerful than feeling guilty and beating yourself up over it. In fact, the harder you are on yourself after a failure, the more likely you are to repeat the behavior. So, what should you do instead? 

Dr. McGonigal recommends giving yourself a message of compassion that consists of three parts. 

  1. Mindfulness. Be mindful of your thoughts and feelings. In other words, don’t ignore what you’re feeling or telling yourself; instead, pay attention to those messages you’re giving yourself, such as, “Boy, that was stupid,” or “Wow, my stomach really hurts.”  
  2. Compassion. Remind yourself of your common humanity; everyone makes mistakes or messes up sometimes. No one is perfect.
  3. Encouragement. Finally, choose encouragement over criticism. Tell yourself, “I’m working on making better choices,” “I made it longer without a cigarette this time than I ever have before,” etc.  

Be kind to yourself. Taking these three steps make it more likely that you will actually do better, according to the research. 

Plan for Inevitable Slip-ups  

Think about when, where, why, with whom, and how you might get off track and then make a plan for dealing with those situations. It’s similar to making a plan in case of fire. You hope you don’t have a fire, but it’s better to have a fire extinguisher and evacuation plan in place in case you need it than to need it and not have it! 

So, think about the times that might prove most difficult to follow through with your goal. Maybe you’re too tired to pack a healthy lunch or go to the gym. Or maybe you’re meeting friends at that bar where everyone goes outside to smoke on the patio. What can you do instead, or what are your recovery steps? Make a plan, have alternatives, and don’t be locked into a mindset of “it has to exactly this way” or “I’ve failed forever and I’ll never make my goal.” It’s just a slip up. It happens to everyone once in a while, and you can get back on track.

Get in Touch with Your Future Self

There is research that shows people who spend time getting comfortable with who they might be five, ten, or twenty years in the future are more able to resist making harmful impulsive decisions today. So, think about how you want your life to look years from now, and then imagine yourself doing something rather mundane, such as pushing a cart through the grocery store. Try it and see what happens.

These tools can all help you to increase your will power and achieve your goals. Best of all, implementing any one of the tools will be helpful, giving you a better chance at the life you want. 

If you still find yourself struggling, please call Mercy Concern at 330-489-1415 to schedule an appointment with a professional counselor for further assistance.

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