The 5 Minute Willpower Workout


Have you ever wanted to do or change something to benefit your life, try, and then end up abandoning it because you just couldn’t will yourself to do it?

If you’re like most people I talk to, the answer is a definitive yes!

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), a lack of will power is the main thing people report that contributes to their failures in follow-through. It’s a problem! The good news, however, is that if a lack of will power is a problem for you, you can change it. Studies are showing more and more that will power is not something you are born with or necessarily acquire with age – really, it is something more akin to a muscle that you can train and make stronger.

You have probably already heard about this, but scientists are finding that we have a finite amount of will power available for each day, and that each decision we make, however small, depletes those resources, actually reducing our glucose levels (Read more here). This means that if we are hungry, sleep-deprived or just “brain-tired”, our ability to make good choices is affected tremendously.

So what can we do?

The plight to strengthen will power (ironically and cruelly so) is in itself a challenge in will power and so we are going to start very small. All that you need to give me is 5 minutes a day to work out that will power ‘muscle’

We are going to focus on building will power by building small habits, and while you can choose any small 5-minutes-or-less activity to complete each day, the one that I strongly recommend is the practice of mindfulness meditation. A small but extremely powerful daily exercise to not only increase your will power, but also keep focus throughout the day, which I know can be very challenging.

The Meditation Mindset

The wonderful thing about meditation is that it has benefits in so many areas of cognition, including will power, patience, focus and clear thinking. It is something that, once you get in the habit of doing it every day, you just won’t be able to get enough of.

Just follow these steps:

  1. Find a comfortable and quiet spot to sit, preferable with dim lighting.
  2. Set a timer with a gentle alarm to let you know when your time is up.
  3. Close your eyes and sit still for 5 minutes, putting your mind to rest by acknowledging and letting go of any thoughts that should pop up. The first minute or so is always the hardest, but after that you won’t believe how quickly the time goes!
  4. When the timer does go off, open your eyes slowly, straighten your legs out and start wiggling your toes and fingers. The idea is to reintroduce movement to the body slowly to keep that relaxed feeling all day.  Now stand up slowly and continue about your day.
  5. Repeat tomorrow!

The thing that people usually have the hardest time with is quieting their mind.  Our minds always seem to be occupied with something, whether it be to-do notes, song lyrics, or going over that argument with your coworker again and again.  To be honest, it is difficult at first, but with just a little bit of practice, you will find it much easier.  The best part is, it is a skill highly transferable to any stressful situation!

Mindfulness meditation tips:

  • Choose a time in your day when you can have quiet.  This might be first thing in the morning before everyone wakes up, or perhaps just before bed
  • Put your phone on silent.  A ringing phone is not a nice way to break the wonderful peace you’ve created.
  • Add one minute to your meditation practice every week or every few days.  An excellent goal to set is 30 minutes of daily meditation, but go slowly to it. 

But wait, how is meditation going to help my will power?

Good question, thank you for asking.

Meditation will help you improve your will power in two ways:

  1. The simple act of doing something each day trains your brain to be able to do it more.  We start with this very small thing and gradually work our way up to bigger things, in the same way that we might start with small weights at the gym and work up to bigger and bigger ones.
  2. By sitting still in one spot, you are actively working out your will power ‘muscle’. By resisting fidgeting or even opening your eyes, you are training yourself to resist urges – the number one will power killer! This is definitely a skill that will carry on. 

More tips to help you succeed

  • Remember that, as with all important and beneficial changes in your life, it is necessary to start out very slowly. This can be frustrating sometimes because you don’t see those instant results that you wish you could have. Just keep in mind every day that you are taking steps to make making good choices easier!
  • Force your will, but be gentle! This ties in with the last point, but I want to make it clear that while you are going to have to put effort into ensuring you complete your task each day, don’t be too hard on yourself. The choices that you made in the past don’t matter, what does matter is right now.
  • Make the decision ahead of time. Set up a scheduled time to complete your task, or set it next to something you are already in the habit of doing. For example, do your 5 minute meditation just before or after you brush your teeth in the morning, or right before bed time. If the decision has already been made, it is out of your hands.
  • According to research, a habit takes about 21-30 days to form.  Keep up your meditation for just three weeks and it will no longer be something you have to think about!
  • Once you’ve developed your first habit, move on to another one, but only do one at a time!  This is important because, remember, you only have a finite amount of will power available to you!

Now, tell me: What habits do you want to work on?  Why do you want to strengthen your will power?  Leave a comment below!