Typically when we think about exercise, we think about working our muscles, but what about exercising our willpower? Can willpower be strengthened in a similar way? Fortunately, researchers have investigated this question and what they found was quite impressive. In one study, researchers had participants start an exercise program to see how it would affect their self-control in other areas of their lives. Sure enough, after two months of starting an exercise program, the participants reported improvements in the following: study habits, financial responsibility, eating habits, attendance to commitments, and even cleanliness around their homes. They were also able to reduce their smoking, drinking, and caffeine consumption. And if all these positive changes weren’t enough, they also reported having less stress.
Although starting an exercise program is great, it’s not the only way to strengthen your willpower. Anything that requires you to repeatedly and consciously alter your behavior, like forcing yourself to always sit up straight, will eventually improve your willpower. Many problems we face in our daily lives result from a lack of self-control, so it is great news that a seemingly unrelated activity (i.e., exercise) can strengthen our willpower to help us in other areas of our lives. Willpower is just like any other muscle… exercise it and it will grow stronger, but use it too much and it will fatigue and result in uncontrolled behavior. Finding the right balance is key. The takeaway message here is that sometimes in life we have to be tough on ourselves in order to change our behaviours and develop better self-control, which will ultimately result in self-improvement. Just make sure to start slowly and focus on changing one behavior at a time.