The Best Strategies to Boost Your Willpower
Science-backed ways to power through tasks you hate
Dozens, if not hundreds of times each day, we have to choose between things we want to do and things we should do: Stay in bed on a rainy Saturday or go to the gym? Scroll through memes or listen in on a boring conference call? Eat a slice of pizza or have grilled salmon?
Temptations don’t look the same for everyone — maybe you really would prefer the fish over pizza — but we all have desires that compete with our longer-term well-being and goals. Sometimes that desire takes the form of something new — a shiny novelty that we have to struggle to decline. But just as often, it looks like the temptation to abandon something that’s already underway. Getting what we want almost always involves powering through activities that are boring, unpleasant, or mentally draining. Getting in shape may require you to keep running on thet treadmill even when you’re aching to stop. Getting a raise could mean sticking with your study plan for a professional certification exam even if the process bores you to tears.
Fortunately, there are ways to hone your willpower in situations like these. New research published in the European Journal of Personality examined some of the most effective strategies for keeping up your willpower during uncomfortable or unpleasant tasks. Lead study author Marie Hennecke, a psychology researcher at the University of Zurich, explains her findings, how to apply them, and how to choose the right self-control strategy for the situation at hand.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Medium: Clearly, willpower is a hot topic — there are so many articles out there about how to conserve your willpower and how to increase it. Why is this a subject people are so interested in?
Hennecke: Willpower is important in so many domains of our lives. In work, school, health behaviors, and relationships, we need self-control to overcome distractions and urges that would lead us away from achieving what we want. Often, we’re drawn to things that might not be best for us in the long run. It could be…