Willpower. The ability to forgo short-term satisfaction for long-term gains.
Maybe you call it self-control or self-discipline.
Your ability to say “no” to that mouthwatering piece of chocolate cake in the break room and “yes” to that salad you have planned for your lunch.
Your ability to lace up your shoes and go out for a run when you’d really rather stay tucked in your nice warm bed.
Your ability to focus and get your work done when all of your coworkers are giggling and laughing in the next cubicle over.
Your ability to skip buying those amazingly comfy and stylish leggings and boots so you can save more money for your family’s upcoming vacation.
Research on Willpower
Researchers have done a lot to study willpower to try to understand how our minds work. They’ve studied how it seems that some people have more willpower than others, how some people can improve their willpower, how sometimes it seems that willpower is in limited supply, and many other areas.
I wanted to take a few weeks to discuss willpower and self-discipline here on the blog because I know that harnessing our ability to create more self-control can help us improve our lives in every single area. Our health, our work, our relationships, our finances can all benefit from a little more willpower.
One of the earliest studies on willpower was the marshmallow study. Researchers took children in a room and offered them a choice. You can have two marshmallows if you can wait until I leave the room for a couple minutes and come back, or if the wait becomes too hard, you can ring a bell and I’ll come right back, but then you can only have one marshmallow. They then left the marshmallows sitting in front of the children to tantalize them while they were gone.
For my kids, this experiment would be torture. For me, it would be a piece of cake, because I don’t really like marshmallows, I’d probably ask for a 3rd choice, how bout you leave the room and bring me back a plate of cheese fries?
Could you wait? We are faced with these types of choices and circumstances every single day. Delaying our gratification in the moment for the chance of something better later on. It’s so hard to keep an eye on the future when right now we want to indulge in whatever is good and pleasurable, no matter what it might mean for our future self.
In the marshmallow experiment one of the main indicators of whether children would be successful at the challenge or not, was what they did while they waited. Children who sat and stared at the marshmallows, drooling and dreaming of it’s deliciousness usually failed the willpower test and succumbed to the choice of only one, but now. However, children who distracted themselves by something else in the room usually succeeded and were rewarded with two marshmallows when the time came.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
This same magic can be used by you in your everyday life. It’s called out of sight, out of mind. You know your biggest temptations. You know what will make your self-control fail. You know the experiences you face every day that keep you from making the best choices. So, avoid them.
Don’t buy the junk food, don’t even go down those aisles in the grocery store. If it’s not in your house, you can’t eat it.
Don’t visit the friends’ desk that holds the candy bowl at work.
Find ways to avoid going to stores that tempt you with cute clothes and clearance racks.
Set your alarm clock across the room so you have to get up out of your cozy bed to turn it off, making you less likely to skip your morning workout for more time in bed.
Delete the social media apps on your phone so you’ll be less tempted to mindlessly scroll throughout your day.
Remove the temptations in your life and suddenly you don’t have to worry so much about your weak self-control, because the opportunities are no longer presenting themselves so easily.
Think through the goals you currently have for yourself. Maybe it’s to eat healthier, to workout more often, to indulge in less social media, or to save more money. Then consider all of the obstacles and temptations that come up for you each day that keep you from sticking to your goal and start coming up with ways to eliminate those temptations.
Focus on something else, distract yourself, and get your temptations out of your mind. Willpower just got a whole lot easier.
What do you do to keep your temptations out of sight and out of mind? Share in the comments.