Willpower, self-control and mental fortitude are vital ingredients in creating and maintaining a healthy, happy life. In a world of labour-saving devices, comfortable routines and our needs being met on-demand, this willpower may be said to be wanting.
Of course, willpower is intangible- there is no way to measure it, and it varies from person to person with a great deal of subjectivity. However, we all know it in ourselves: we all hopefully have a grasp of how much willpower we have at any one time, in many given circumstances. We have goals and we know whether or not we are making those goals, and whether a lack of willpower lies behind it: losing weight, getting that promotion, hitting a new PR in the gym, facing up to something you fear all rely to a greater or lesser degree on willpower.
It’s a good general rule of thumb to say that people with low willpower tend to make poor choices in life. It is too easy for them to give in to short-term goals at the expense of longer-term goals- goals which will be ultimately more rewarding.
Conversely, those with greater willpower are generally happier, healthier, more satisfied in relationships, have better careers and can cope with stress, conflicts and adversities more easily, as they sacrifice fleeting pleasure or comfort in order to pay attention to longer term health. Improving your willpower can therefore bring you a lot of benefits.
In fact, the APA (American Psychological Association) offer the following commentary on willpower:
Psychologists characterize willpower, or self-control, in more specific ways. According to most psychological scientists, willpower can be defined as: The ability to delay gratification, resisting short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals… Conscious, effortful regulation of the self by the self.
Luckily, willpower can be trained and improved, just like anything else.
There are certain scientifically valid ways of doing so, which will allow you to unwire your brain’s bad habits and develop the ability to take control.
Two of these methods interlink perfectly, each working in concert with the other, each completing the other: cold water immersion therapy and Conscious breathing.
Cold Water Immersion therapy
Cold water immersion therapy- in which participants immerse themselves in water between 2 and around 14 degrees C (depending on the needs and method) – has been growing in popularity in recent years. Mavericks such as Wim Hof, the self-styled Dutch ‘Iceman’, have been touting it as something of a panacea, claiming it can do everything from speeding up metabolism to making recovery from exercise more efficient, from boosting immune function to improving mindfulness and willpower.
Most, if not all, of these claims are being borne out by scientific data as research begins to look into the many benefits of cold water immersion therapy.
Practising cold water immersion therapy will indeed, perhaps unsurprisingly, lead to greater self-control and willpower. It should be noted that there is inevitably an element of self-selection here- those looking to engage in cold water immersion therapy are probably predisposed to greater self-control, with greater staying power when things get tough- the whole process undoubtedly toughens you up mentally. The simple task of forcing yourself into the discomfort of cold temperatures takes a great deal of willpower; remaining in that state for minutes at a time takes even more so. Doing this regularly will get you comfortable with being uncomfortable, with challenging yourself and overcoming the knee-jerk reaction that will make you want to gravitate towards something more comfortable.
This will filter out into daily life. You will be more able to overcome stressful, uncomfortable situations with regular cold immersion practice. You will more ably put yourself outside your comfort zone, flourishing as you do so. You will have greater staying power when the going gets tough and will be able to maintain equilibrium through pain and discomfort with greater ease than previously.
Willpower, self-control and commitment are all needed for anybody looking to take advantage of cold water immersion therapy. As noted above, there is an element of self-selection: you need a good dose of willpower even to take that first plunge (literally and figuratively). You can then expect these traits to improve over time, with regular practice. The brain can be trained in this way, improving willpower.
Breath control- conscious breathing techniques, such as yogic pranayama- also forms a cornerstone of practices like Wim Hof’s own methodology. It is core for anybody looking to improve their willpower and will nicely reinforce the mindful benefits gained from cold water immersion.
Conscious breathing practice requires patience and dedication, as does cold water immersion. It will improve your focus, reduce your stress levels and create a self-aware state of mindfulness conducive to improved willpower.
Breath control exercises, like pranayama, have a strong effect on all of these facets.
Research shows that it is helpful because it directly affects the prefrontal cortex of our brains. If you struggle with willpower, in any setting, look out for practices, like yoga, that use and train breath control.
Through meditation and conscious breathing practice, you will learn to be the observer of your own thoughts, to borrow a common saying from yoga. You will become more mindful of your thoughts, emotions and any productive and destructive impulses you feel. In turn, you will be able to better manage or control them, bringing the productive, healthy, empowering ones to the fore whilst diminishing the destructive, negative, unhelpful ones.
Practicing cold water immersion regularly, alongside taking part in breathwork training and meditation, will lead to improvements in willpower, self-control and mental fortitude. As we have seen, these are key factors in the creation and maintenance of a healthy, happy life. The mindfulness of Conscious breathing, the calming, stress relieving outlook gained by meditation, the ability to cope with stress brought about by Conscious breathing and cold water immersion, and the mere fact of forcing yourself into the discomfort and shock of cold water immersion, all come together to build on what is likely an already strong foundation.
Your willpower will be improved, as will your ability to deal with stressful, uncomfortable situations and your ability to push yourself to your limits and beyond.
Foto door Brooke Lark, Unsplash