5 Ways to Increase Your Willpower

The following five strategies will help you hold your ground—no matter what temptations are luring you in the opposite direction.

  • Stephanie Booth

1. Eat a Turkey Sandwich

On average, we spend four hours each day actively resisting things we desire. Every time we refuse to succumb—say, by washing the dishes before watching TV or by holding our temper—our bodies draw on our store of glucose, which carries energy to the muscles and brain. When our glucose levels get low, our willpower weakens. To keep it high, eat regular meals that are full of protein and good carbohydrates, like a sandwich of lean meat and cheese packed between two slices of whole-wheat bread. And never start a challenging task on an empty stomach.

Roy F. Baumeister, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at Florida State University, in Tallahassee, and the author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength ($28, amazon.com).

2. Anticipate Roadblocks

When you start pursuing a goal, consider what might interfere with your plans. Always assume that glitches will come up and that your motivation may falter when they do. So if you’re trying to cook more, do your food shopping well ahead of time. And make several meals the weekend beforehand, in case you don’t get home in time to prepare dinner. Having a fallback makes it more likely that you’ll accomplish your aims.

Sandra Aamodt, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist based in Northern California and a coauthor of Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows From Conception to College ($26, amazon.com).

3. Do the Opposite of What You Normally Do

Like a muscle, your resolve can be strengthened over time with practice, even if you’re not trying to correct a specific bad habit. Anytime you modify your routine, you’re developing self-control. For example, try to brush your teeth or open doors with your nondominant hand. Once you’ve succeeded in making a tiny change, you can work toward accomplishing something more substantive.

Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D., is a social psychologist at Columbia University and the author of Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals ($16, amazon.com).