On Monday, Martin Luther King Day, we paid tribute to the civil rights movement and Dr. King’s life long quest for equality. He had a clear purpose, persevering through hardship and frustration in order to reach his goals. Courage, willpower and tenacity were his strengths, and they can be yours, too.
You may not be facing the same struggles Dr. King did. But in January we make New Year’s resolutions and try to find the courage to engage our willpower. Who hasn’t, at the beginning of one year or another, put eat less or work out more at the top of their ‘to do’ list?
Willpower is a strength we all have. It’s like a muscle that needs to be exercised. And the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. Here are some ideas about how to build yours:
Find role models. Spend time with friends and family who understand what you need in order to get what you want. Gravitate toward those who are allies and share your goals. Believe it or not, you can actually ‘catch’ self-control.
Reduce stress. Under pressure, you can become irritable, anxious or frustrated. Know your limits, don’t take on too much, learn to say no and get enough sleep. If your brain is tired, it has a harder time resisting temptation.
Reframe challenges. Turn the negatives into positives and see them as something you want to not have to do. Practice testing yourself first by making small changes. And then reward that, perhaps not with dessert but with a day at the spa or theater with friends.
Studies show that powerful memories and positive thoughts about what you value can enhance willpower. Problems with self-control occur when you’re caught up in the moment and distracted from your goals. You may want to be ready to run that 5K in 2 months, but right now you’re looking at a piece of apple pie. Thinking about values and standards moves you away from present pleasures toward long term gains.
So start small as you strengthen your mental muscle in a quest for self improvement. Plan to go to the gym one day a week or to give up just one food. You’ll find that you can increase your self-control. And in the process, like Dr. Martin Luther King, you’ll build character and willpower reserve for the bigger challenges ahead.