Health & wellbeing

The truth about willpower

Using willpower alone to make healthier decisions can get tough. That’s because over time, willpower can become depleted. Try these strategies for helping you to become less reliant on it.
Published 9 March, 2020

Someone at work is having a birthday and there’s cake going around. Of course, you could rely on willpower to resist it – along with plenty of other things during the day – but that can get tough. Studies have shown that our willpower can become depleted over time, making healthier decisions more challenging. So don’t rely on willpower alone – use these strategies to make things easier:

  1. Create guidelines. Deciding in advance how you’ll act in certain situations means you won’t need to think about other options at the time. For instance, plan to eat fruit or veggies with every meal, or take a route home that doesn’t pass the bakery. Make sure it’s truly doable.
  2. Modify your environment. Sights, sounds and smells can all affect your actions, so set up your spaces to minimise the need for decision making. If having a biscuit tin on your worktop means you’re constantly debating whether to eat them, more them to a cupboard where they’re out of sight.
  3. Make an active choice. Create situations where a better choice requires less effort. Want to read before bed instead of getting wrapped up in TV? Put the TV remote on a high shelf across the room, where you’ll need to actively decide to get up and grab it.
  4. Use temptation bundling. Couple your “want to do” activities with your “must do” ones. Listening to your favourite podcast (something you love) on an evening walk (something you “must” do), reduces the amount of willpower you’ll need.