If you’ve been with Club Soda for a while you’ll know that we always say that behaviour change cannot rest solely on willpower. This is because relying on willpower can be draining, and means that we will always need to put effort into things. Imagine if saying ‘no’ to a drink always took a concerted effort, rather than just becoming second nature. That would be pretty tiring, wouldn’t it? Learning to flex your willpower is an incredibly powerful tool in our kit as we change our drinking habits. Ultimately, our aim is to change our desires and the behaviour around them, so that we will need to use our willpower less and less.
In 1998 psychologists sought to answer the question ‘do people have a limited amount of willpower?’. They conducted a study, and proved that humans have a limited pool of willpower, if we’ve had to use it once, it is harder to do so again soon after. They called the effect ‘ego depletion’. This theory has been applied across a variety of fields, from athletic training and dieting to creating marketing strategies. However, a study challenging the theory was conducted some years later, and found zero evidence to support the existence of ego depletion.
Despite all this, we know that willpower can be of great use in changing your drinking, particularly in those early days of creating change. So there’s no harm in practicing and learning to flex your willpower in preparation for the times that you’ll really need it.
Here are four things that I have used to train my willpower in recent years. Flexing your willpower when it is not essential to do so makes it much easier to tap into it when you really need to override that impulsive brain.
Count down from ten
I use this whenever I can’t be bothered to do something. Don’t want to get out of bed? Count down from ten, and promise yourself your feet will touch the ground before you finish. I apply this to all sorts of things, emptying the laundry, starting a work task I’ve been putting off, going for a run. It’s also really useful to collect evidence for yourself along the way. For example, if I was putting off a task because it felt daunting, and then I started and found it wan’t as scary as it seemed, I could recall this as evidence next time a task felt overwhelming. If tempted to hit the snooze button, I can start counting, and minutes later I’ll be able to observe how glad I am that I’ve started my day, and that I actually felt quite fresh. Here is another piece of evidence for the bank. Use these examples that you’ve stored up as motivation to crack on, even when things feel tough. You could even write these down as visual reminders for yourself.
Embrace the cold
Sounds awful, right? when I was training for a long distance race, a friend recommended I follow an athlete called Max Lowery, who is an advocate for cold water therapy. Thanks to him, I started reading up on the benefits of the Wimhof Method. Knowing that during the race I would experience dramatic temperature shifts and physical discomfort, I decided to take control of that by getting used to it. I used the facilities at my gym to alternate between cold showers and sitting in the sauna. I also challenged myself to finish my showers at home with a few minutes of cold water. You can build up to this gradually. Cold Water Therapy is used by athletes to aid in recovery, and also works wonders for your focus. It may sound unappealing, but it could be a great way to jumpstart your day.
Stillness and willpower
I tried Yin Yoga for the first time a few months ago, and it has now become a regular part of my week. Unlike many other yoga styles, yin is a very still practice. You arrange your body in various positions, and then you wait, focussing on breath and releasing tension. At first, poses may feel uncomfortable, but by holding them for a few minutes, you will gradually let go of that discomfort, and learn to find stillness. In this practice it is important not to fidget, and the breath plays a key roll. You need to find the will to override that urge to move. I have always found meditation challenging, but find that with Yin I am able to find a rhythm to my breath, and to take my mind away from racing thoughts. It has become an essential part of managing my mind and body.
Set one low-stake challenge
Creating new habits is highly challenging, but setting yourself one small challenge can be a nifty way to boost your willpower for bigger behaviour overhaul. For example, I know that I am poor at hydrating, so I promised myself that I would drink one glass of water as soon as I got up. I changed my alarm to say ‘drink water’, and set a cup next to my bed each night. This is something I just forced myself to do until it became habit. In choosing something small I have made a low-stake commitment. There is no room for bad repercussions if I don’t manage it, and if I do, the outcome can only be good. I can observe any failure and choose to do better tomorrow. And again, this is another opportunity to gather evidence of success for future me, it’s a reminder that I am capable of creating new patterns of behaviour.
If you have any great tips for flexing willpower, we would love to hear them. Why not share in the community, or let us know on Twitter or Instagram?