In our Physio Yoga summer classes this past month we reflected upon our intentions for the new year, checking in on our new years resolutions and ensuring they were in line with our core values. But no matter how knowledgeable we are about healthy living, and how clear we are on what we wish to add in or take out of our day to day lives this year, there is still a big step to actually changing our behaviour – our willpower.
On my bedside table this month is a book called “The Willpower Instinct”, from Stanford health psychologist and yogi Dr Kelly McGonigal. Drawing from neuroscience and psychology research, she outlines the top evidence-based strategies for boosting our willpower to help us stick to our intentions and create meaningful and lasting changes in our lives.
1. Support your willpower physiology
Just like helping our ‘willpower engine’ run better, we can do things that maximise our ability to engage the prefrontal brain regions that are involved in reasoning and decision making, and quelling our cravings and impulses.
Getting quality sleep, meditating, exercising and eating a low GI diet to smooth out spikes in blood sugar are the top four behaviours to consider adopting. Could you pick one or two? If it sounds like it might take a lot of willpower to do them… don’t worry. They will pay you back with more willpower than you spend on making them happen!
2. Forgive yourself for set backs
Harbouring shame, guilt or self-criticism for not following through with your intention might feel like the slap on the wrist you need to get you motivated, but it has been proven to have the opposite effect. Guilt undermines future self control, yet self-compassion and forgiveness promote willpower. So if you didn’t manage to go for that walk today, acknowledge it, let it go, reconnect with your intention, and start tomorrow fresh.
3. Predict failure
Sounds a bit harsh? Getting familiar with how and why you might fail to achieve your goal will support you in successfully navigating life to achieve them. If I am very aware that going to bed after 10pm and not packing my work bag the night before makes it unlikely that I will meet my goal of walking to work, I can consciously plan to optimise my chances of succeeding.
4. Make friends with your future self
It’s easy to disregard healthy behaviours today when we feel disconnected from the long-term consequences of choices. Try imagining yourself 10 or 20 years down the track, and picture how your current healthy choices are paying off. Really connect with a sense of caring about and wanting the best for your future self. You just might find you can meet your goals with greater ease.
So whether it’s to go for that run or meditate 10 minutes a day, or pass on that second glass of wine or sweet treat, we wish you every success in following through on your healthy intentions, and hope these tips can strengthen your ‘willpower muscle’ to make it happen.