When achieving a personal goal, willpower is essential. In fact, the American Psychological Association credits a lack of willpower as the primary reason that we fail to achieve our goals.
How can we boost our willpower and create meaningful change in our lives?
How to Accomplish Your Goals
Set goals that motivate you
Strange as it sounds, we have a habit of setting goals that aren’t all that important to us. Kelly McGonigal, a Stanford University psychologist and willpower expert, notes that we often set goals based on perceived expectations rather than personal meaning. For example, we may start a new diet or exercise routine because we think we should rather than because we’re passionate about being healthy or love a particular workout. Because these goals lack genuine motivation, we are less likely to pursue them long-term.
The first step in setting goals that motivate you is to be mindful of your routines, both mundane and exceptional. Make note of what gives you joy and energy throughout the day. Maybe you find purpose and fulfillment when spending quality time with others, experimenting with new recipes, or traveling to experience other cultures. Now that you’ve recognized which parts of life bring you fulfillment, try to develop goals that increase your engagement with them. For example, you could set aside two evenings a week to spend with loved ones, start a recipe-exchange club, or save money to travel as frequently as possible. When you set a goal that aligns with your unique motivations, and you are more likely succeed.
Be compassionate and realistic with yourself
Willpower is powerful, but like all of our emotional resources, it’s limited. Every time we use some of it, our willpower stores are slightly depleted and need time to fill back up. For example, it might be easy to ignore the candy jar at work if you only walk past it once a day. But what if you constantly pass it? You may find your willpower used up and your desk covered in candy wrappers.
Willpower depletion can be exacerbated during times of high stress. Have you ever found yourself indulging in unhealthy habits more when you’re overwhelmed by work? If so, you’re not alone.
When we’re running low on willpower, it’s easy to relapse on some of our goals–and that’s okay. It’s normal to slip every now and then. The best thing you can do is be compassionate with yourself and think about what you can learn from this experience. What caused your willpower to be depleted, and how can you avoid or cope with that factor in the future? Each slip-up offers you a new tool for enhancing your willpower and achieving your goals.
Occasionally, issues like depression and other mental health concerns sap our willpower and make it difficult to feel motivated. This type of apathy is a common mental health symptom–and it does not mean that you’re lazy. It can be helpful to recognize how this symptom might be affecting you, and to show yourself compassion and understanding. Your mental health might be making it particularly challenging for you to exert your willpower, and you deserve to be commended for recognizing and working against that.
Turn behavior into habits
Once a behavior becomes a habit, completing it requires less willpower, which means you can use all your leftover willpower to focus on a new goal. So, how can you solidify a new habit?
Make sure your goals are specific and measurable: for example, climbing the stairs to your office building each morning, or attending therapy once a week. You might consider sharing your goal with a trusted loved one who can hold you accountable for maintaining it. Keep in mind that it can take up to 90 days to create a new habit, so instant success is unrealistic. Creating change is a long yet rewarding journey.
Which goals are you pursuing? Are there specific lifestyle changes you’d like us to discuss further? Contact any of our experienced therapists by shooting an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or getting in touch on social media. We wish you the best in achieving positive change!
Erin Ross, MS OTR/L is an occupational therapist and an aspiring science writer in DC. She believes in evidence-based practice, clear communication in healthcare, and diligent inclusion of the Oxford comma.