There is an idea that a person’s willpower is limited. And like a muscle, it can grow weaker1.
So, for example, imagine a person is faced with a moral dilemma. Then shortly afterwards, he is asked to resist something that is within his eyesight and within easy reach. The chances of his resisting are lower after the moral dilemma, than if he hadn’t been faced with the dilemma.
Just like in working out, one needs to take breaks between sets to regain strength, so too do people sometimes need time between exertions of willpower to regain that willpower. Likewise, as people need adequate nutrition and energy to maintain and enable strong physical exertions, our minds and emotions need replenishing in order to function at their best.
How does a person with alcohol, drug, eating addiction apply this to help themselves? Here are some suggestions:
Instead of going to the bar after a stressful day of work (read: after willpower exertion), do something or go somewhere you can regain calm and peace.
If you’ve already been resisting a temptation for awhile, go somewhere else or do something different where the temptation is not as strong, or where your mental energies can be focused on something else.
Be sure to do things each day that make you happy, make you laugh, or make you smile. Liken this to getting rest or eating a good meal.
For those instances when need a quick burst of willpower strength, have something easy and quick prepared that you can do to boost your morale. For example, plan ahead of time to think about a happy moment. Or have a favorite funny YouTube video bookmarked on your computer. Or call a friend who is good at encouraging you.
1(Reference: For additional suggestions and a good discussion of this topic, read www.psychologytoday.com/blog/good-thinking/201306/how-boost-your-willpower. I’ve also read this idea on other sites.)
What other ways can you benefit from thinking of willpower like a muscle?