My recommendation to you: don’t trick yourself into anything. Tricking yourself implies that you’re doing something under the table, something sneaky, and ultimately — something dishonest.
Why would you do that?
Whatever you do, be 100% honest with yourself.
Instead of tricking yourself, help yourself get to the bottom of the resistance to do something. Make it doable instead of overwhelming. Break down the complex task into smaller increments so it doesn’t seem as big as you initially thought it would be.
In other words, find out how doing something will benefit you.
Here’s how you can improve your willpower.
ONE. Learn to anticipate resistance.
It’s very rare for things to run smoothly just like we’d ideally want them to. Reality is quite the opposite: when we start working on something, sooner or later we will face an obstacle that we’ll have to overcome in order to move ahead. That’s why it’s a good idea to plan ahead for those situations when nothing seems to be working.
- How can you apply this? First, tell yourself that whatever it is you’re feeling or experiencing in a particular situation, it is an emotional reaction and it will pass. Second, resist the urge to give up doing something that you know is good for you. Just because it feels uncomfortable now doesn’t mean it won’t have a positive impact on your life. And third, make a plan A and a plan B (and even a plan C!) in case things go wrong and you need to take more time, pick another route, or contemplate an alternative solution to the problem you are trying to solve.
TWO. Make distractions your enemy #1.
It’s next to impossible to focus on getting any work done if we allow our attention to move on to little things around us. Everything sounds tempting. The benefits of being merciless with distractions are huge—when you turn them off, you have a better chance to actually focus on things that are important to you.
- How can you apply this? First, turn off the digital distractions when you need to do your most challenging cognitive tasks (studying, problem-solving, or writing). Set your phone to Airplane mode. Turn off all notifications. Check your email and social media apps 2–3 times a day. Close all tabs in your browser on the computer. Then move on to the social distractions. Let everyone around you know you’re not to be disturbed for a few hours so they don’t interrupt you all the time. Finally, if you’re in a noisy environment, put on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and listen to music that helps you focus.
THREE. Apply your willpower early in the day.
It’s pretty common that when we wake up in the morning, we’re overwhelmed with the amount of things we need to do, so we tend to procrastinate on some of those things and postpone them for later in the day. If you understand that we all have a finite amount of willpower that takes us through the day, you’ll be more likely to use it wisely.
- How can you apply this? If you want to focus on priorities, work on them early. This means do them in the morning, and think of using up the time all until lunch. For example, complete that task that you’ve been putting off all week. Write up a plan for the school or work week ahead of time. Read through the last few chapters of your textbook and make detailed notes that will make studying much easier. Finish up homework you’ve been putting off because you’d rather do something more fun, like check your Instagram.
FOUR. Keep it simple.
Every habit we’d like to acquire needs self-discipline, time, and repetition. Does it sound intimidating? That’s because you positioned it that way: you feel like you should be doing something difficult when you’d rather be relaxing. Maybe today is the day to be honest with yourself and say, it’s time to start working out, stop eating out so much, get more sleep, or watch TV less.
- How can you apply this? To simplify a change you’re trying to make, start with tiny steps. Tiny means really tiny. Super small, bite-sized activities that are doable and accessible to everyone. For example, if you’re building up your writing skills, start by writing a paragraph or two each day. Do a mini-workout at home for 10 minutes this month before you buy that gym membership. Start going to bed 15 minutes earlier to de-stress and relax with a good book. Prep and pack your lunch the night before so you don’t have to eat unhealthy meals while you’re at work or school.
FIVE. Start a habit of saying “NO!”
If you’ve ever found yourself running out of time to do what you need or would like to have time for, it may mean you’re wasting time and energy on things that are not that important in the long run. This could apply to distractions of any kind, spending hours on insignificant activities or pointless conversations, or watching TV all night.
- How can you apply this? Exercising your “no!” muscle means literally saying no in a variety of situations in your daily life. If there’s leftover cake in the fridge, don’t eat a double portion for the next three days. If you’re in the middle of finishing up a project and a friend calls to ask if you want to go party, don’t just drop everything you’re doing and go. It’s important to know your priorities—and it’s even important to be in tune with them. Be aware of what is relevant to your life and why you’re working on something.
SIX. Believe in yourself.
Regardless of whether you’re a student, parent, or employee working on your career, what’s most important is not just what you’re dealing with today. It’s more about the big picture of your life and what you believe you can start doing today to become the best version of yourself down the road. That’s why it’s important to instill a healthy dose of believing in yourself.
- How can you apply this? First, develop a growth mindset by dismissing either your own limiting messages or the words of others dictate what you should excel at and what you should give up; chances are, you’ve been conditioned to think in this way from an early age. Second, grow your critical thinking muscle by not taking everything you see and hear for granted, and instead learning how to think on your own. And finally, turn obstacles into opportunities: instead of getting emotional about a setback, work through it so that you can get stronger mentally and learn to rely on yourself.
SEVEN. Zoom out.
Making small changes in your daily life to boost willpower can have a larger positive impact — they can improve your future. That’s why it’s critical from time to time to pause and zoom out of whatever is happening right now, so you can contemplate the bigger picture of your life.
- How can you apply this? If you feel like you’re sacrificing some things right now (time out with friends or indulging in a delicious dessert), think about what it can afford you long-term. Write down a list of ways in which you are now practicing new habits that can add up to bigger results a year from today. Give yourself some time and space to dream up what you want for yourself. Set goals and hold yourself accountable. Think big. Move forward, in small steps, every day. Keep your mind on the future you want. Then go after it.