How To Improve Your Will Power
Having the correct mindset is essential in life, to be successful in any endeavor you must be focused and you must be in the correct frame of mind. If you are not clear in your mind in what you want to achieve, there is a high chance you will not succeed in reaching your goal or your life’s full potential. Whether you want to lose weight, get in the ring to fight, to keep fighting past extreme tiredness or start a successful business, having the right mindset will get you started on the right path. Below is a fascinating interview on will power taken from a great book on mindset by Mike Cernovich named Gorilla Mindset. Often we have goals to go to the gym or join that club but for whatever reason we cannot get out of bed to go or sit down on the couch after a long day at work and end up putting it off long enough for us to eventually forget about it, this is a lack of will power and the interview below will help you strengthen your will power and strengthen your mind so you can eventually strengthen your body and many other areas of your life.
How to Improve Your Willpower
(Bonus interview with Dr. Jeremy Nicholson)
Willpower has always been a fascinating subject. When we fail in life, we tend to believe it was due to a lack of willpower. What exactly is willpower? How can we gain more willpower and make the most of our willpower? I was able to sit down with Dr. Jeremy Nicholson — a Social and Personality Psychologist, with a research and writing focus on influence, persuasion, dating, and relationships — to discuss the limits of willpower.
The interview with Dr. Jeremy Nicholson is below.
Mike Cernovich: What is willpower?
Dr. Nicholson: As opposed to animals (like lizards) that primarily live in the moment, we have an added component to our consciousness called Symbolic Self Awareness (Sedikides & Skowronski, 1997). That added awareness allows us to imagine future behaviors and their possible outcomes (like buying snacks at the store), before we actually act them out in real life (and pig out at home). Essentially, it makes such future projections, plans, and goal-setting possible on a cognitive level.
As a result of this added symbolic awareness, we have the ability to improve ourselves by bouncing back and forth between setting future goals and immersing ourselves in present actions to reach those goals. This behavior has been described as a discrepancy-reducing feedback loop, also known as a test-operate-test-exit loop (Carver & Scheier, 1982). In essence, we project into an imagined future to set goals and plan (the test). We then perform behaviors in the present to get closer to those desired goals (operate). After a period of time, we compare the present to the future, in order to monitor our progress toward that future goal again (test). Finally, we either adjust and behave again (operate), or reach our set goal (exit).
This is the basics for why we flip-flop between present and future, in order to help us set and reach desired goals, and improve ourselves. It is also what Mike basically does to set plans and then “coast” through his day. HOW he (and we) accomplish these activities is a bit more complicated.
Cernovich: How can we increase our willpower?
Dr. Nicholson: To begin, an individual needs to project into the future and set a goal. Such goal-setting is essential because goals are the “test” that all present action will be measured against. In Mike’s world, it is the time he spends envisioning his ideal physique and deciding on the general steps and goals required to get there. Those goals, in turn, help to direct attention to goal-relevant activities, increase motivation, prolong effort, and aid in strategizing for future success (Locke & Latham, 2002). To best accomplish that, goals should:
•Be Specific — so that an individual can clearly measure success (e.g. deciding to lose 20 pounds is better than just wanting to lose weight).
•Be Challenging — in order to improve motivation and satisfaction upon completion. However, it should also be achievable, to avoid discouragement (e.g. setting a 20 pound goal instead of 5, because it is still achievable, but would make a bigger difference).
•Be Important — to meeting the person’s needs (e.g. losing weight to promote health AND attractiveness).
•Provide Feedback — to help the individual be aware when change in behavior is needed (e.g. weighing every week to determine weight loss — or getting a DEXA scan every few months).
Next, it is important to motivate the behaviors required to reach the goal. We “perform” in the moment by being propelled by two general types of motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000). We may perform because of personal desires, needs, or values internal to ourselves (Intrinsic Motivation). We may also take action to obtain some sort of external reward, favor, or relationship (Extrinsic Motivation).
Although both types of motivation serve the same function, when possible, it is often better to set goals and perform behaviors that are at least congruent with intrinsic motivations and personal needs. That is why people who work “doing what they love” are often more satisfied and productive than those who work “for a paycheck”. It is also why Mike says that he doesn’t fight himself, and is true to who he is and what he wants. He is being congruent with his intrinsic motivations and using them to drive his behavior.
To stay on track, self-control is important. Staying in the moment, keeping focused, and persisting is not always easy. That is where discipline and self-control come into play. However, self-control tends to operate like a muscle, getting fatigued with repeated use (Muraven & Baumeister, 2000). Therefore, try to juggle too many tasks in a day and you’re bound to let one slip. Fortunately, also like a muscle, self-control gets stronger after repeated exertion and rest.
Thus, to perform in the moment and reach goals, self-control needs to be used judiciously. Ideally, goals and behaviors should be staggered, to give time for rest and recovery. New endeavors should be added one at a time. If that is not possible, then sometimes certain taxing behaviors or routines could be made more automatic and effortless with practice (Bargh & Chartrand, 1999). At other times, perhaps a change in general mood or reframing the task might make it less taxing — called Emotion-Focused Coping (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984).
This is the area where Mike really shines. He streamlines many of his tasks to make them automatic. He keeps a positive focus, reducing stress and making things feel less like “work.” In short, he makes careful use of his limited self-control to maximize success.
Finally, it is important to “test” again and adjust behaviors as necessary to reach goals. That is where the idea of Implementation Intentions comes into play (Gollwitzer, 1999). In short, implementation intentions are quick “If X, then Y” statements, that lead to behavior prompts much like conditioned reflexes, or NLP anchors.
For example, if Mike sets certain times to fast, looking at the clock will automatically remind him about his diet (and not to eat yet). Similarly, if he associates certain dominant behaviors with the gym environment, those stimuli will prompt him to “hit it hard” when he walks in. Like Mike, by setting and conditioning these prompts, we can create little behavioral reminders that either keep us on track or help us change focus.
Overall then, looking into the future to plan and acting in the moment are two sides to the same coin of self-development. Switching between those states helps us to set goals, find motivation, control ourselves, and implement positive behaviors. Like with Mike, a little forethought also helps to reduce the clutter in our lives, reduce stress, and find greater success.
Now that you’ve read my thorough analysis of the mechanisms behind Mike’s success … take one more cue from him. Spend a few minutes setting a goal, then get off of your computer and go do it!
About Dr. Jeremy:
Jeremy Nicholson is a Social and Personality Psychologist, with a research and writing focus on influence, persuasion, dating, and relationships. He also holds master’s degrees in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and Social Work. Dr. Nicholson shares his advice as a dating/relationship expert as The Attraction Doctor on Psychology Today.
To order the book ‘Gorilla Mindset’ you can click on the link here