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Step 4 of Building Healthy Brain Habits: Willpower

Willpower is an unruly topic, to say the least. Whether some people are inherently “better” at self-control is still a topic of debate. What’s more important is how you exercise your willpower.

Over the past two weeks, we’ve shown you how to “spring clean” old habits from your brain. Using four achievable steps, we’ve presented mindfulness and neuroscience research to for re-patterning your thoughts, reaching your goals and freeing your mind from old habits that were impeding your success. First, we focused on a goal. Then we visualized a plan. Third, we explained the neuroscience behind building momentum.

The final step, known as The Willpower Affect, will solidify the changes you’ve worked to create. Your goal is set, your plan is laid out, and you’ve built momentum toward building new habits—now the most important piece for actually achieving your goal is to set yourself up for success.

The Willpower Affect: How to Make Decisions that Boost Your Success

Once you have your goal, achievable steps and smart plan, make success as easy as possible for yourself. This process means removing excess effort and anything that might strain your willpower.

A woman lacking will powerFor example, if your big goal is to eat healthier and your daily step is to have a piece of fruit instead of dessert, keep fruit in the kitchen and get rid of your cookies. This essentially automates the new habit—it is no longer a decision; it is an automatic.

Former President Barack Obama said: “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make too many decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

This is exactly what scientists mean by “The Willpower Affect.”

Your neurons can handle a certain amount of information. By making some decisions a “given,” you allow your brain to divert energy to where it’s needed most, like building new pathways for new habits.

Deep Dive: "5 Ways Brain Fitness and Behavioral Health Are Optimized by Healthy Habits."

“Making choices led to reduced self-control (i.e., less physical stamina, reduced persistence in the face of failure, more procrastination, and less quality and quantity of arithmetic calculations),” in a Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study. "If your 'little steps' are automatic, rather than a choice to be made, you’re more likely to succeed. Making choices impairs subsequent self-control...decision making, self-regulation, and active initiative.”

Essentially, if you let your brain spend too much time deciding whether you should eat an apple or a cookie, you’re depleting your self-control. Instead, make the action automatic and that decision-making energy will go toward building a new neural pathway instead of strengthening your old “should I?” pathway.

We’ve now covered the four fundamentals of building new habits in your brain!

Tune up your brain: "Brain Fitness: Best Brain Training Apps to Keep Your Brain Healthy."

The Four Fundamentals of Spring-Cleaning your Brain:

Dream Big; Start Small - turn your dreams into achievable steps.

Make Your Plan Powerful - visualization should be one of your first steps.

Build Your Own Momentum - repetition is vital for a healthy brain.

The Willpower Affect - making decisions can make or break your success.

This does not mean it is the end. When you falter, revisit the steps. In the future, you may need to completely start again from step one. That is the wonderful thing about the brain: it can, and will change! What’s even better: you can create the change, shaping it to lead to your own success.

For more information about healthy brain habits, how to train your brain, and Heartmanity's brain fitness programs, get our blogs right in your in-box!


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Enid R. Spitz / Heartmanity ContributorEnid R. Spitz / Heartmanity Contributor
Enid Spitz is a writer, yoga instructor, and works at the popular Lululemon. She previously lived in Portland, OR and Seattle, WA, where she was a newspaper editor and researched yoga for Traumatic Brain Injury. Heartmanity combines Enid's passions for social well-being, neuroscience, and yoga. When not writing or on the yoga mat, she is an avid traveller, and loves being outdoors.

Posted in Brain Fitness, Mindfulness and Perspective, Habits for Health

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