Contrary to popular belief, overcoming addiction isn’t mainly a matter of willpower. Recovery is a process that requires social support, therapy, and lifestyle changes, among other things. However, willpower can play a supporting role in recovery. It can help you get your running shoes on when you don’t feel like getting off the couch or it can get you to a 12-step meeting when you’re not sure if you really want to go. We tend to think of willpower as a singular trait that you either do or don’t have. In reality, willpower is highly situational. Here are some ways to get yourself to make healthy decisions even when you might not feel like it.
Connect It to Your Values
Often, what looks like a lack of willpower is really conflicting motivations. For example, someone can sincerely want to quit drinking but also feel like they must keep drinking to cope with challenging emotions. Two valid desires are diametrically opposed. One way to solve this problem is to identify and reinforce your most important values.
Think of it this way. Many people want to stop drinking because they realize it is hurting their family. If you recognize that your family is the most important value and that there are better ways than alcohol to address challenging emotions, then that reframes the decision in your mind. It’s no longer “Do I drink or not drink?” but rather “Which is more important, alcohol or my family?” Studies have found that reminding yourself of your most important values helps people make healthier choices. One way to do this is through a technique called self-affirmation in which you write daily about the things that bring meaning and hold weight and give value to your life.
Make It Easy to Follow Through
Willpower isn’t constant. Rather, it ebbs and flows depending on the hour, day, week, or month. During the times when you have more energy, focus, and social support, you can “lend” some willpower to your future self by setting up systems that make it easier to make healthy decisions. Incidentally, studies show that having more empathy for your future self also makes you more likely to do things that will benefit you in the long run.
You can set up these systems in a number of ways. One way is to create healthy routines. If you want to start an exercise habit, link it to something you already do every day, such as getting out of bed or coming home from work. The second thing you can do is make it as easy as possible to follow through with your new, healthy behavior. Set out your exercise clothes the night before if you’ve decided to implement an exercise routine in the mornings so that all you have to do is throw them on to get started.
Clean Your House
Though it may seem unlikely, cleaning your house can actually increase your willpower in two ways. First, it’s good practice in discipline and making yourself do something you might not feel like doing. No one likes taking out the trash or loading the dishwasher but doing these things can strengthen your willpower muscles, so to speak. Second, a more orderly environment makes it easier to make healthy decisions. One study even found that participants in an orderly room chose healthier snacks and donated more money than participants in a disorderly room. It could be that an orderly environment saves mental energy that can then be used to make healthier choices.
There are many elements to a successful recovery. Willpower is often about setting up your life in such a way that it’s easier to make healthy choices. At Tree House Recovery of Orange County, we help men discover a better way to live, free from drugs and alcohol. Our holistic program helps men become stronger mentally and physically. To learn more about our programs, call us today at 855-202-2138.