Willpower is that thing that pushes you to the next level despite obstacles and setbacks.
It’s the grit that keeps FBI agents on a case when there is no easy answer in sight. Sometimes, in order to find a kidnapping victim or arrest a terrorist, agents need to rely not only on their skills and training, but aksi on their sheer will and determination to cross the finish line.
Willpower is the force of will that drives entrepreneurs and business owners to overcome seemingly impossible circumstances. It drives change and creates opportunity.
Many people could improve their lives if only they had more of that mysterious thing called willpower, but most of us do not believe we have enough of it. In the American Psychological Association’s annual survey on stress, people cited lack of willpower as the No. 1 barrier to following through with changes that would improve their lives.
Willpower is something that can be learned and can be strengthened with practice. It’s also a vital component of mental toughness.
Let’s take a look at five effective FBI tips on how to boost your willpower:
Tackle tough tasks early in the morning
FBI arrests occur bright and early in the morning, when agents’ willpower is strongest and they are able to land on their feet when confronted with the unexpected.
If you start your day reading emails and scheduling meetings, you are making a big mistake. Research shows that between two and four hours after waking your brain is at its sharpest. Don’t waste that precious energy first thing in the morning on a conference call or staff meeting.
There is a reason things usually go bad in the evening, when you’re tired and easily distracted.
Tip: It’s hard to do real work at work. Most workplaces are an endless stream of interruptions. If possible, get to work before the crowd or work from home during those first productive hours in the morning.
Keep the juices flowing
The agents with whom I worked alongside for 24 years were motivated because they had jobs that provided them with value and meaning. They were committed to upholding the federal laws of the US and bringing criminals to justice.
To activate your willpower, you must be able to remind yourself why it’s important for you to do something. Meaningless tasks will not activate your willpower. When you keep the juices flowing, you are reminded that you have a purpose and are committed to your goal.
Successful entrepreneurs and business owners are passionate enough to take on the world and are able to do so because they know willpower drives innovation and success.
Tip: Monitor your behavior toward your goal by using your willpower to prepare for inevitable roadblocks and bumps. If your job provides you with value and meaning, you will be motivated to do whatever it takes to reach your goal and make a positive difference over the long haul.
Focus the right way
FBI agents do not focus on what they are up against; they focus on their goal of solving a case and ignore the rest. That doesn’t mean they don’t pay attention to valuable information that comes their way, but they do not lose focus on what is truly important.
Entrepreneurs and business owners need to do the same thing. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself on a merry-go-round of constant worry. You will never get anywhere if your mind is always focused on the difficulties ahead.
Tip: It’s easier to regain the feeling of control if you break down your big projects into little chunks and put all of your mental energy into completing them. Always keep the big picture and ultimate goal in mind, but dedicate yourself to the little victories that will take you further down the line.
Simplify when you can
Every night I laid out what I was going to wear to the office the next day. I always wore a suit with flats. It was easy, predictable, and I didn’t have to worry about how I would chase a suspect down the street in a pair of ridiculous heels.
President Obama wears only gray or blue suits to pare down his number of decisions. In an interview with Vanity Fair, he said, “I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing because I have too many other decisions to make.”
We have a finite amount of mental energy and the more choices we make during the day, the harder each one is on our brain. We start to look for shortcuts, we get impulsive, and then we get reckless. Successful people tap into their willpower reserves by limiting the number of decisions they have to make during the day.
Tip: Focus your decision-making energy by creating routines around those activities that are performed every day. Don’t go through your day being distracted by trivia.
Build a bigger brain
FBI agents are not the only ones who resort to running and other forms of exercise to clear their mind so it can focus on important matters. Training our mind to focus clearly strengthens our willpower.
According to Kelly McGonigal, your brain actually has a willpower center, a clump of cerebral cells called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Neuroscientists have discovered that you can make your willpower center denser and better connected by meditating. After 11 hours of meditation, MRI scans show that meditators have increased neural connections and gray matter in brain regions responsible for impulse control.
Tip: Spend five minutes a day meditating. Focus on your breath and when your mind wanders, bring it back to the breath. Being “bad” at meditation — constantly needing to push away intrusive thoughts — is exactly what trains the brain and strengthens willpower.
LaRae Quy was an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years. She exposed foreign spies and recruited them to work for the U.S. government. As an FBI agent, she developed the mental toughness to survive in environments of risk, uncertainty, and deception. LaRae is the author of “Secrets of a Strong Mind” and “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths.” If you’d like to find out if you are mentally tough, get her free 45-question Mental Toughness Assessment. Follow her on Twitter.
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