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Brenda Novak | Getting it Done…

March 28, 2008

Want to read more books, write more pages, lose weight, exercise daily or achieve some other goal? Do it by boosting your willpower!

Boost Your Willpower

Spring is on its way and with it warmer weather. When those layers come off, we’re faced with the pounds we’ve gained over the winter, which prompts many of us to attempt a “just in time for summer” diet. But chocolate cake is now and summer is later and far too often “now” wins over “later.” Or…we’ve always dreamed of completing a manuscript, but instead of sitting at the computer and pushing through to “The End,” we allow an email addiction to thwart us. Or…we’ve heard about the health benefits of regular exercise but we procrastinate each day and never get around to engaging in it.

How do we conjure enough willpower to overcome these and other self-defeating behaviors?

I don’t have all the answers, but I did run across an interesting article on this subject written by Tara Parker Pope in The New York Times. Her tips, combined with my own experience, form the following five-step plan:

1. Eat several small meals a day.

Studies show that lower blood glucose levels coincide with less willpower. Keeping your blood glucose up helps you have more self-control. According to Pope, researchers have found that test subjects “who drink sugar-sweetened lemonade, which raises glucose levels quickly, perform better on self-control tests than those who drink artificially-sweetened beverages, which have no effect on glucose.”

Being the mother of a diabetic child, I’ve seen the glucose phenomenon work on an exaggerated scale. When my son goes “low,” he has much more trouble controlling his emotions. Although he’s a child who is normally very well-adjusted and happy, he will suddenly burst into tears for very little reason. Restore his blood glucose levels, and he’s fine, perfectly capable of restraining himself.

I’m not proposing we all drink more soda and get fat while trying to boost our self-control enough to diet. LOL Instead, as most dieticians suggest, we need to eat several small, healthy meals each day.

2. Keep long-term goals in mind.

The ability to delay gratification grows with maturity. I remember learning that in a psychology class, but even for adults delaying gratification can be difficult. How do you forgo the dessert you’re craving now for a reward (getting slimmer) that happens so gradually and over time? According to Kathleen Vohs, one expert quoted in Ms. Pope’s article, you “conjure up powerful memories of the things you value in life.” To me, this says that you look at the big picture. Ask yourself, “Do I want this piece of cake more than I want to look good this summer?”

Often putting it in perspective—picturing yourself looking slim and attractive in those summer months—will make the temptation less appealing.

3. Practice.

Use your willpower in order to strengthen it.

Working out every day is not an easy thing to do. If you don’t prioritize, other activities will invariably get in the way. Not only that, but after a few minutes of pushing yourself physically your body starts screaming, “Stop! I’m tired.”

After exercising religiously for 65 minutes a day, five times a week, for seventeen years, however, I can promise you exercise becomes routine, if not easy. It’s the practice of overcoming myself each day that has made it so much less of an ordeal. And flexing my willpower in this regard has boosted my self-control in other areas. It gives me a “reservoir of strength” to draw from.

4. Start small.

This was the part of Pope’s article I found especially interesting. She says, “A vow to stop swearing, to make the bed every day or to give up just one food may be a way to strengthen your self-control, giving you more willpower reserves for bigger challenges later.”

This is what I was saying about exercise. You can carry the willpower you develop in one area over to other areas, making it easier for you to hit your goals there, too.

5. Focus on one or two behaviors at a time.

Instead of trying to change a million different behaviors at once, which is a sure way to fail, at which point you get discouraged (hardly conducive to boosting your willpower), concentrate on the biggest thing you’d like to change in your life. Once you’ve modified your behavior, and turned that behavior into a habit, focus on another goal and then another. For instance, decide that you’re going to write for X number of hours a day. Do that until it’s a habit; then maintain it while shooting for a new goal.

I know, it’s easy to make suggestions and much harder to live by them. It’s not quite as simple as the above may sound. As long as you’re living and breathing, there will be things you wish you were doing that you’re not, but I do believe these tips help. If you have any others to add to the list, let me know!

Brenda Novak is the national bestselling author of 25 novels. Summer 2008 will see the release of her next three romantic suspense stories—TRUST ME, STOP ME, and WATCH ME, coming from Mira Books. Visit her Web site at to learn more about her and her work, or to participate in her annual on-line auction for diabetes research which takes place May 1 – May 31s

Brenda Novak

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