We read last month about this concept of building up the willpower muscle and how routines can help us do that. With the start of the New Year a goodly number of Thrivers are beginning to make or think about making New Year’s resolutions. Rather than get caught up in that, which you might have already read a great deal about, I thought it might be wise to spend our time talking about exactly how to build up this muscle.

We know that building up muscle tissue in general, say in your arm, requires that you use the muscle. Any kind of “resistance” work or weight work is essentially talking about pushing your muscle to the point where it breaks down a bit and in the process of re-building it actually puts down new tissue, which really is building your muscle. We can use much of that knowledge and apply it to willpower.

The more you get into the habit of using willpower, the easier it gets. Here are some general strategies, which will help you get started:

Start by keeping track. We can’t change a behavior until we know when or how we engage in it. Spending a week just being mindful of what you are doing will go a long way to helping you decide what changes to make. Have you noticed that you tend to get short and agitated with yourself or others later in the day, especially those days that you skipped or missed lunch? Those are huge clues for you. Other examples include frequently stopping your work to update or check your social media, which in turn keeps your productivity down, purchasing a Starbuck’s premium drink each morning on your way to work and then thinking your wallet is looking slim at the end of the week or your credit card balance is through the roof, sleeping in and not getting yourself to the gym, because its so cozy in your warm bed.

Once you become aware of your behaviors you can start to plan for how to manage those times. Less productive because you’ve missed lunch? Keep a stash of granola bars or other healthy snacks in your desk drawer or in your bag. Bed too warm to get out of it in the morning? Put your alarm clock on the other side of the room and don’t allow yourself back into bed once you’ve gotten up to shut the alarm off. Even Thrivers can find it hard on a grey morning to get up and moving so help yourself out as much as possible.

Going back to last month’s article on routines get yourself into a routine around the area you want to practice more willpower in. Want to spend that extra $5 on coffee today? Not a problem if the routine is that you only do so if you don’t spend that money on lunch out or you only use change from your pockets to ‘fund’ that trip to Starbucks. The more frequently we practice our new behavior the easier it will be.

Be aware of where you are and the built in cues. Advertisers and marketers know well how easily we are swayed by smells, repeated messages and other cues to purchase. There’s an entire science to how items are placed in any store you go into including to make sure it smells good in a supermarket and that the healthy options require you to walk long distances past not so healthy options. Wandering in stores, lingering after a meeting when you know its a ‘dangerous’ time for you, making a big decision when you’re agitated are all certain ways to break down your willpower muscle.

Make big decisions early in the day, go shopping for food when you’re not hungry and limit yourself to your list which you made at home, and if you find yourself needing to make a big decision or be in a tough meeting at the end of the day, make sure you have some food in your stomach. Glucose has been shown to be extremely helpful in making big decisions! (New York Times, “Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?” 8/17/2011)

As a Thriver, the more you know, the easier it is to build and stick to new ways of going about your life and business. Here’s to your building that muscle!