How to Maximise Your Willpower and Minimise Digital Distractions to Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Stick

24 January 2023 |
Episode 1 |

Episode summary

Feel like you’re already failing at your New Year’s resolutions? I’ve been there. In this episode, I explain how you might accidentally be sabotaging your own willpower and why digital distractions from smartphones to streaming services are making it harder to hit your goals. I also share 5 tips to help you maximise your willpower and stay on track with your resolutions for 2023 and beyond.


Episode notes

In this episode, I talk about:

  • Why we seem to have the same New Year’s resolutions year after year
  • Why we go all in on our goals during January but run out of steam by February
  • What willpower is, how it works, and why scientists believe that it’s a limited resource
  • How you might be unintentionally sabotaging your willpower by wasting your energy on small or insignificant decisions
  • Why your smartphone is the ultimate source of cheap dopamine and how this is affecting your willpower
  • 5 ways to maximise your willpower so that you can stick to your New Year’s resolutions and make progress towards your goals

Resources and tools mentioned:


Episode transcript

Expand to read a transcript of this episode

[00:00:35] Hey guys, welcome to The Digital Diet Podcast. I’m your host, Marisha Pink, aka The Digital Diet Coach, and this is Episode 1, the first proper episode.

[00:00:45] Hope you’re doing really well today, and if, like me, you’re looking outside and it’s kind of frosty, that you are keeping warm too. It is -4 degrees in London today, it’s really cold, and I am literally sat here recording this with a hot water bottle, my dog, and a blanket over my lap, so I know how you feel.

[00:01:06] I wanted to talk today about New Year’s Resolutions, and willpower, and dopamine. And that might seem a bit strange at first. You might be thinking, what does that all have to do with digital wellness? But bear with me because over the next couple of episodes, we’re going to be talking a lot about them as we dig deeper into some of the most common New Year’s resolutions, and how technology can either help or hinder your progress.

[00:01:31] Now, it’s late January at this point, so if you’re someone who sets New Year’s resolutions, then you’ve probably got a list of about three to four things that you really want to achieve in 2023. Maybe you’re the kind of person who writes them down and pins them to your walls so that you can see them every single day, or maybe you’re a bit more casual about it and you kind of just have these “things” you’d like to do floating around in your head.

[00:01:58] Either way, I don’t know if it’s just me, but quite often my New Year’s resolutions or my goals for the year are exactly the same as they have been for the past few years. And it usually goes something like this…

[00:02:10] Lose a ton of weight, or adopt a healthier lifestyle that involves eating better, drinking less, exercising more, and getting more sleep. Spend less time binge-watching Netflix or scrolling through social media, and take up a hobby that I’ve been dying to try for the longest time, or improve an existing hobby or skill instead. Meet the man of my dreams, fall in love, and live happily ever after. And something career based, which for me, being self-employed, now means launching a new business or product or service. But, depending on work situations, has in the past meant getting a promotion, a raise, a new professional qualification, or even changing jobs and careers completely.

[00:02:57] And there always seems to be so much enthusiasm in January. Like, you’ve actually got to achieve all of these things in the first 31 days of the year, in order to prove to yourself that “New Year, New Me” is a real person that does things differently to “Old Me.”

[00:03:13] It’s the reason why the gym is always overcrowded in January, but by February things are back to normal and you don’t see half of those people ever again. And I’ve definitely been guilty of that, being the January gym bunny. It’s the reason why January has historically been the month with the highest number of job resignations. And it’s also the reason why there are so many New Year’s offers and one month free trials on everything from courses and classes to premium dating app subscriptions.

[00:03:43] We somehow seem to forget that a New Year’s resolution is an intention for the whole year, if not for life. Which, at the very least, means that you have 12 whole months to achieve all of these amazing goals. But when you go all gung ho in January, often by February you’re starting to run out of steam.

[00:04:03] And then when you fail to maintain New Year, New Me’s new routine, and you either: miss a workout, or six; or you allow yourself to have that Friday cocktail because you had a hell of a week at work; or you join a dating app and you don’t instantly meet the love of your life or have a string of really rubbish dates; or you fail to land an interview at that job that you thought you were perfect for, suddenly you start to feel defeated. And you’re on a slippery slope right back to being Old Me, and it’s much harder to pick yourself up and get back on track.

[00:04:35] Now, I don’t say this to be all doom and gloom like there’s no hope. I say this because it really got me thinking about why this happens, and about what you can do to prevent it or to stop it if you feel like you’re starting to slide down that slope.

[00:04:49] Because there have been years where I’ve absolutely smashed my resolutions and goals out the park, and I’m sure that you’re the same. But as I said at the start of the episode, a lot of us also have resolutions and goals that are like boomerangs. They seem to be a recurring theme, they keep appearing on the list year after year, which basically means that we’re not hitting them.

[00:05:09] So, I really wanted to understand what’s different about the goals that we hit and the goals that we don’t, and what might be going on in our brains and in our environment that’s either setting us up for success or dooming us to failure. And that’s where the concept of willpower comes in, because surely the fact that these goals have made it onto your New Year’s resolutions list in the first place means that they are in some way important to you.

[00:05:34] Of all the things that you could have included, these are the three to four things that you have chosen to focus on and prioritise in your life at this time. So, logically, that should mean that when you’re given a choice, you’ll always take the option that brings you a step closer to achieving your goal. And you should have strong enough willpower to resist anything that might go against your goal.

[00:05:56] Except that we all know from experience that this isn’t the case. How many times have you promised yourself that you’ll get an early night, but then you’ve stayed in bed scrolling through Instagram reels until one in the morning? Or you’ve planned to spend your evening making job applications or working on your side hustle, only to end up watching Netflix until that little box pops up and asks if you’re still watching? And there’s no judgment here, by the way. We’re all guilty of this, myself included. But what’s going on? Where the heck is your willpower?

[00:06:27] Now, willpower is the ability to resist short term temptations or desires and delay your gratification or pleasure, so that you can achieve long term goals. It’s sometimes called effortful self control in the scientific literature, which is a bit of a mouthful, but I actually think that it’s a more descriptive term because willpower does require effort.

[00:06:50] It’s a very conscious act involving thought, planning, logic, reasoning, and therefore energy. Plus, it requires you to control and regulate yourself. Whether that’s your thoughts, your emotions, your actions, or all three. No-one is forcing you, no-one is controlling you or telling you what to do. You have to exercise self control.

[00:07:16] And if you’re successful, then you can override any unwanted or unpleasant thoughts, any unwanted or unpleasant feelings or impulses, and do what you need to do even if you don’t feel like doing it. So, think about what happens when you’re having an argument and it takes all your willpower or energy not to shout or to call the other person horrible names. Because even though it might make you feel better in the moment, you know that it’s not helpful in the long run.

[00:07:46] So willpower is very much a cognitive function, because it’s essentially decision-making. It involves weighing up your options and making a decision to pursue a particular path, either giving in to temptation or resisting it. But it’s more complex than simple decision-making, because it’s actually the combination of three mini decisions, or what the literature likes to call “powers.”

[00:08:10] The first is, “I won’t power,” which is saying no to temptations. I won’t turn on the TV and fire up Netflix. The second is, “I will power,” which is saying yes to the things that you want. So, I will sit down and work on job applications tonight. And the last one is “I want power,” which is remembering and recommitting to whatever your long term goal is. So, I want to get a new job with more money and more responsibility. And to successfully exercise willpower, you need all three of these things to play ball with each other.

[00:08:50] Because you can stop yourself from turning on the TV, but still not sit down to work on job applications, and instead find yourself watching videos on YouTube. Or you can sit down to work on job applications, but end up giving up halfway through and turn on Netflix anyway because you’re not remembering that what you really want is a new job and recommitting to it in the moment.

[00:09:13] Now, I’m gonna try to keep this as simple as possible, but stay with me because, as they say in the L’Oreal adverts, here’s the science bit. Some scientists believe that willpower is a limited resource which can get used up over time. So, the more you use your willpower to resist temptations, the less you have available and the less effective you become at using your willpower to resist the next temptation that you face.

[00:09:37] And the theory of why this happens is actually pretty interesting. The part of your brain that’s responsible for willpower and decision-making is known as the prefrontal cortex. And the prefrontal cortex is responsible for all cognitive control. So, in addition to willpower and decision-making, loads of other cognitive functions like attention, learning, memory, problem solving. Basically anything that you need to consciously engage your brain for.

[00:10:07] However, your cognitive resources are limited. Think of them as being a bit like a smartphone battery. Each time you use any of your cognitive functions, whether that’s willpower, decision-making, learning, problem solving, you use up some of your battery. Now, all of the cognitive processing that’s involved in using willpower, so the I won’t, the I will, and the I want, requires a lot of energy. And that energy comes from glucose, which is your body’s primary fuel source.

[00:10:41] So when you keep facing temptations and you’re continually forced to use your willpower, your prefrontal cortex is using up a lot of glucose. This eventually puts your brain into a state of alert, because your glucose starts to drop below normal levels. But you need energy to keep fuelling all your other cognitive processes, and your brain doesn’t know when you’ll have a chance to top your glucose levels back up, so your brain has to do something.

[00:11:09] Now, when your smartphone battery is running low, what do you do? You put your phone into battery saving mode. You turn off background app refresh. You turn off Bluetooth. And you probably turn down the screen brightness too, to make whatever juice that you have left last as long as it possibly can until you get to a charger. And your brain does exactly the same thing. It starts rationing. And it does this by looking for ways to reduce your cognitive burden, even if those ways don’t support your long term goals.

[00:11:42] And guess what requires the least cognitive effort? Habit. Something that is already a habit that you’ve done millions of times before doesn’t require much thought or cognitive processing. So your brain starts prioritising your old habits and routines, so the very ones that you’re trying to escape from, it starts prioritising them over purposeful, deliberate, and intentional actions towards your goals, all in an attempt to conserve energy and cognitive resources.

[00:12:13] And you start feeling like you just don’t have the willpower to do what you know you need to do. You quite literally don’t have the energy. And that’s how you end up drinking wine instead of water, staying on the couch watching Netflix instead of going to the gym, and scrolling through TikTok instead of sleeping.

[00:12:31] Now, as if that wasn’t bad enough, the crazy thing is that this depletion of your willpower isn’t even specific to a particular temptation. It’s not simply a case of you resisting a glass of wine on Monday, and again on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, and on Thursday, so that by the time you get to Friday, you’re all out of willpower and you can’t resist that glass of wine after work.

[00:12:55] It’s all powered by the same cognitive resources battery, which means that using willpower in one area of your life directly results in you having less ability to resist temptation in a completely unrelated area of your life. So if you’ve spent all week resisting the urge to drink wine on your quest for a healthier diet, then it’s entirely possible that there’s simply not enough juice left in your battery to help you resist turning on Netflix instead of doing job applications, by the time it gets to the end of the day.

[00:13:26] And it gets even deeper than this because another study found that you don’t even have to use your willpower for it to be depleted. This study showed that even if you just experience a desire or temptation that conflicts with your goal, it’s enough to drain some of your willpower. And that’s probably because your brain is automatically using cognitive resources when it’s weighing up the costs and benefits and choosing whether or not to indulge in this temptation.

[00:13:52] So basically, if you’ve sworn off drinking, and you’re constantly confronted with a glass of wine, your willpower is damned whether you actually drink it or you don’t. And since all of these cognitive processes are essentially relying on the same battery for power, using your other cognitive functions, like decision-making, also drains your willpower.

[00:14:12] And here’s the kicker: it doesn’t matter how big or important the decision you’re making is. The research shows that little decisions use as much cognitive resource as big decisions, because for every decision in one part of the brain you’re weighing up the potential benefits and costs of each option, and in another part of the brain you’re calculating the potential reward from actually making the decision.

[00:14:36] So, making many small decisions daily can completely decimate your battery, leaving less power available to tackle more important decisions, and of course less energy to exercise willpower. Now, I want you to think about that for a second. How many little and unnecessary decisions are you making each day? And it will probably surprise you.

[00:15:00] Imagine that from when you wake up in the morning, you decide whether or not to snooze your alarm, what to eat for breakfast, whether to wash your hair today or wait until tomorrow, what to wear, how to do your hair, how to do your makeup, what jewellery to wear, whether to take the bus or the train.

[00:15:20] All the many decisions that you make all day long during your working day, and then the decision to go for drinks after work or not, what to have for dinner, whether to watch another episode of your favourite show or watch a film. That’s 11 relatively low value decisions, excluding the decisions that you make while at work.

[00:15:40] Now, I promised to tell you what this has to do with digital wellness. Well, let’s take those 11 decisions, let’s double them to very conservatively factor in the decisions you made during the working day, and we’re already at 22 decisions. Now consider this: your smartphone is constantly presenting you with little decisions.

[00:16:03] Do I answer this call or do I ignore it? Do I read this message now, or do I read it later? Do I respond to this message now, or do I respond to it later? Do I act on this email, or do I ignore it? And by wasting your cognitive resources on insignificant decisions like these throughout the day, you can end up making bad decisions about things that actually matter to you in your depleted state, i. e., choosing to watch Netflix and drink wine when you’re supposed to be doing job applications and laying off the booze.

[00:16:37] And if you think that you’re immune to this, then you should also know that research has shown that the mere presence of a smartphone can cause you to use up cognitive resources, because you’re unconsciously using effort to ignore your phone, even though you’re not actively using it.

[00:16:54] Now, when it comes to technology and digital distractions, there’s another factor at play here too. And that factor is dopamine. Dopamine seems to be in the headlines every other day at the moment. It’s a bit of a buzzword and we will definitely talk more about it on a future episode of the podcast. But for now, all you need to know is this.

[00:17:14] Dopamine is a neurotransmitter. It’s often known as the feel good or the happy hormone. And when dopamine is released in your brain, you experience feelings of joy and pleasure, and a sense of achievement. Now, initially, scientists thought that dopamine was only released when you actually managed to obtain a reward or achieve something.

[00:17:35] And that reward could be material, like buying a new car, it could be social, like winning a pub quiz, or it could simply be relief from a bad feeling, so that feeling of joy you get after a big meeting or a big pitch that’s been stressing you out is finally over. However, scientists now know that when dopamine is released, it creates neural pathways in the brain, which is essentially your brain’s internal wiring.

[00:18:01] And when you keep repeating the same actions or behaviours that are causing dopamine to be released, those neural pathways get reinforced and they become much stronger. And this keeps happening until eventually you don’t need to actually achieve or obtain the reward for dopamine to be released and get those pleasurable feelings.

[00:18:20] Your neural pathways start to respond when you expect that the reward is coming. So if you see signs that it’s about to happen, that’s enough to trigger the release of dopamine, which causes your body to release energy and invest in pursuing the reward. And of course, the closer you get to the reward, more dopamine is released, which reinforces the neural pathway even further.

[00:18:42] So now you’re in this self-reinforcing cycle or loop. Digital distractions, so your smartphone, your laptop, your TV, social media, they all take advantage of this by creating a dopamine-driven feedback loop that rewards your brain for losing focus and searching for external stimulation.

[00:19:02] Now, you probably don’t even think of using your devices as being rewarding or being something that would give you a sense of pleasure or achievement. But let me tell you that that’s exactly what is happening. And we’re all using our devices so much and so continuously throughout the day, that we’ve unintentionally reinforced those neural pathways so that they’re crazy strong.

[00:19:25] And that’s why the mere presence of your smartphone is problematic. Because your brain gets all excited at the sight of it and all the rewards that you might find if you pick it up and use it, and you have to use your willpower to resist that temptation. But the bigger problem is that dopamine is dopamine, however you get it. And your brain just wants to get its dopamine kicks in the easiest and quickest way possible. Because, let’s face it, who doesn’t want to feel good all the time?

[00:19:52] And the little rewards that you get from answering your phone, searching the internet, checking your email or browsing social media are much easier and faster to obtain than the bigger reward that would come from you following through on your resolutions and achieving an important goal, after a much longer period of sustained focus and attention. Not to mention a hell of a lot more effort.

[00:20:14] Your phone is giving you what’s known as cheap dopamine. And this is made even more challenging because your prefrontal cortex, so remember the part of your brain that has cognitive control, also has a novelty bias. It’s like a magpie, it likes shiny new things.

[00:20:30] So your attention and your focus are easily hijacked by something new, despite this actually also being the part of the brain that you rely on to maintain attention and stay focused in the first place. So, it doesn’t take much for you to become distracted by your devices. Which brings us to the golden question.

[00:20:47] In a world where you’re constantly having to make choices, resist temptations, and fight distractions, how do you maximise your willpower so that you can stick to your New Year’s resolutions and make progress towards the goals that actually matter to you? Well, I’m going to share 5 tips with you, and while I can’t promise that adopting them means you’re going to 100% smash your goals, I can promise that it’s going to make working on them and making progress that little bit easier.

[00:21:14] Tip #1 is, unsurprisingly, do everything that you can to minimise distractions and reduce temptations in your environment. Put your phone away, ideally in another room, but if you can’t do that then in your bag or in a drawer where it’s out of sight and not within easy reach. Phones are usually the biggest culprit because they’re so portable, and they give us access to our social media, and email, and the internet, and all our other apps, and we tend to just carry them around with us as we go about our day to day business.

[00:21:46] And so it might seem super simple, but it works, because your phone is no longer out on your desk or in front of you in your line of sight. Remember, just the presence of your smartphone is a drain on your willpower because you’re having to resist picking it up. And it also takes a lot more effort to get up and go to another room, or to go upstairs or open up your bag to retrieve your phone than it does to reach across the sofa or across the table to pick it up.

[00:22:12] Leaving your phone elsewhere also means that you’re not going to be distracted by the constant ping of notifications. Because even when you put your phone on silent, every time you get a notification the screen lights up. And it’s hard for your brain not to register this and for your attention to be pulled away.

[00:22:28] The same goes for any other temptations that might conflict with your resolutions and goals. If you’re not drinking, stay out of the bars and pubs and go for coffee instead. If Netflix is calling your name in the evening, then sit in a room without a TV when you’re working on job applications or on your side hustle.

[00:22:45] Do everything that you can to minimise distractions and reduce temptations, so that your brain doesn’t sabotage your efforts by going for the cheapest source of dopamine it can find, and you don’t have to waste your limited willpower resisting those temptations.

[00:22:59] Now, in his book, Atomic Habits, which is one of my favourite books of all time and highly recommended reading, the author James Clear explains that the people with the best self control are typically the ones who need to use it the least. And that’s really what lies at the heart of this tip.

[00:23:15] By creating a disciplined environment that’s free from temptations and distractions, it becomes possible to make the cues for your bad habits invisible, giving you a much better chance of staying on track. So that’s the first tip, minimise distractions and temptations in your environment as much as you can.

[00:23:33] The second tip is to embrace good routines. A routine is essentially a sequence of habits, and we’ll definitely be digging deeper into habits in a future episode of the podcast because there’s a lot to say. But the thing about habits, and by extension routines, is that once they’re established, they require very little, if any, conscious thought.

[00:23:53] So think about your morning routine, for example. You probably do the same things each morning, in the same order, without giving it much thought. Maybe you make a coffee, then you read the news, then you take a shower, and then you check your emails while you’re eating breakfast, and you basically do it all on autopilot.

[00:24:10] Now, this didn’t happen overnight. At some point, you used to spend time and effort each morning deciding whether to take a shower before or after having your breakfast, deciding whether to work out instead of reading the news, and deciding whether to check your emails before or after your shower. And you kept doing this mental gymnastics until you settled into a routine.

[00:24:32] On average, habits take 66 days to form. And so routines, or strings of habit, might take even longer. But as we’ve already discussed, habits are powerful because they require very little cognitive processing and your brain likes to default to them whenever your cognitive battery is running low.

[00:24:50] So by embracing habits and routines that are aligned with your goals, you can make life a little easier for yourself, because when your brain is tired, it’s not going to view those activities and behaviours as requiring a lot of energy and try to steer you away from them.

[00:25:05] So, let’s say that you want to write a book. If you normally come home and plonk yourself down on the sofa in front of the TV, try switching up your routine so that the first place you always sit is at your desk for one hour to write. You can watch TV after that for as long as you like, but you will hopefully have made some progress on your writing. And the more you do this, the more it becomes a habit that you do on autopilot and therefore don’t have to think about.

[00:25:29] The next time you have an exhausting day, you’ll be much more likely to come home and sit down at your desk without even thinking to do it. And the same goes for endlessly scrolling through social media, if that’s something that you’re trying to cut back on. A blanket restriction or time limits can feel like torture, and many people really have trouble sticking to these sorts of rules when scrolling has become so ingrained in their routines.

[00:25:54] So instead, I recommend that you try aligning your usage to your existing routine. You could try not touching your phone until after you’ve had your morning shower. Or not taking your phone into the bathroom whenever you go to the toilet. Or not having your phone at the table during mealtimes. And over time, these periods where you don’t use your phone will become an intrinsic part of your routine.

[00:26:17] It’s much harder to muster up the willpower to stop scrolling social media or stop watching the TV once you’ve already started, if this has been your go-to routine for so long. Especially if the dopamine feedback loop has kicked in. So switching up your routine can help make the cues for your good habits more obvious and help you make progress towards your goals.

[00:26:38] Tip #3 is to minimise unnecessary decisions and cognitive processing. Now, it’s impossible to avoid making decisions completely, but as we discussed earlier, all those little decisions that you make throughout the day are draining away your willpower so that there’s less left for more important decisions. And this is where technology can be of help.

[00:27:00] Use subscription services for your recurring items. Instead of having to think about or guess when you’re going to run out of something, and then having to plan your trip to the store to restock, get yourself a subscription. Now I personally have subscriptions for toiletries and for dog food, and they arrive like clockwork so I never have to think about whether I’m going to run out or when I’m going to find the time to go to the shops.

[00:27:24] And I know some people also have food or meal plan subscriptions so they don’t have to think about what food to cook and eat for every meal. You can pretty much get subscriptions for anything regularly recurring these days and it will relieve you of a significant cognitive burden.

[00:27:39] I recommend the same for managing your financial commitments and goals. Automate whatever you can. There is no need for you to remember to manually pay your energy, and water, and council tax, and credit card, or other bills on time every single month. Or for you to manually transfer money into your savings account. Use online banking or your bank’s app to schedule direct debits and standing orders for all your regular bills, subscriptions, and savings, and just be done with it.

[00:28:07] It will save you so much cognitive processing. And another way to reduce cognitive processing is to schedule your recurring to dos in a calendar as reminders or appointments. Every calendar has this function, so it doesn’t matter whether you’re using Google Calendar or iCal or Outlook. By putting these recurring tasks in your calendar, you stop wasting cognitive resources trying to remember to do them every week or every month at the right time.

[00:28:33] And again, it might sound like a small thing, but remember that all these seemingly little decisions add up, and they’re using up as much cognitive resource as your big important decisions and draining your willpower battery. So, I’ve scheduled putting the bins out for rubbish collection each week. And I know this might sound really silly, but I hate doing it. Especially in this weather when it’s cold and it’s dark, and even more so now that they’ve separated my rubbish into ordinary waste, recyclables, and food waste. And they’re all collected on different days.

[00:29:05] And when I thought about it, I realised that I was wasting so much energy each week trying to remember which collection was on which day, and trying to guess if I should put the ordinary waste out on the Tuesday collection because there’s also a second collection on Fridays, and even though the bin isn’t quite full, it might be overflowing by the time I get to Friday.

[00:29:24] And then trying to decide whether I should put the bin out before going to bed or whether I should get up early enough to put it out in the morning before the collection. It was all such trivial rubbish, if you’ll excuse the pun, that was taking up space in my brain. And maybe you’re not this neurotic, but just putting it in my calendar eradicated most of this internal brain headache.

[00:29:44] So take the time to think about what you can put into your calendar and schedule as a recurring task to take away the brain power that’s involved in thinking about it every week or every month.

[00:29:56] Now, Tip #4 is related to tip number three, and it’s this. Time your little decisions and your technology usage very carefully. And what I mean by that is to make the boring, mundane, and repetitive, but necessary decisions at the end of your day.

[00:30:14] Decide what you’re going to wear tomorrow. Pack your bag for tomorrow. Make your to-do list for tomorrow. Prepare your lunch or your breakfast for tomorrow. Plan the route to the party for tomorrow at the end of the day before. Because when you do all of these things in the morning, you start draining your cognitive battery, and therefore your willpower, before you even get to the good and important stuff.

[00:30:37] So by getting into the habit of doing these things the night before, you stop wasting valuable energy that you could be using in service of your goals and resolutions. And this is particularly important because your cognitive battery gets charged back up when you sleep, meaning that it’s at its fullest when you wake up in the morning after a good night of rest.

[00:30:57] So you’re most primed to resist temptations and distractions and go after your goals first thing in the morning. And you can take advantage of this further by 1) using the earlier parts of your day to work on your goals and scheduling smaller, less important tasks and activities for later in the day, and 2) avoiding technology until as late in the day as you can get away with.

[00:31:18] So for example, if your goal is to work out three times a week, try scheduling your workouts for the morning instead of after a long day of work when you’re tired and you’re more likely to make and give in to excuses because your willpower is running low.

[00:31:32] If you have a big project to focus on, commit to working on it for a few hours at the start of the day before you check and respond to emails, instead of the other way around, so your brain isn’t distracted thinking about all the other things that you have to do or you might be needed for.

[00:31:48] Now, this is one of my all time favorite tips, because it’s so simple. But when I started doing this in my own life is when I saw the biggest changes and the biggest results. There was also an unexpected side effect of generally feeling like a total badass boss bitch, because I had never been so organised going into each day, after doing all those tasks and planning the night before.

[00:32:09] I now don’t use my phone in the mornings until after I’ve read 20 pages of a book, I’ve done 15 minutes of yoga, and I’ve written in my journal. Those are all daily practices that I wanted to incorporate into my life for a really long time, but I never seemed to master. And they didn’t become habits and a routine until, firstly, I started prioritising them in the morning instead of having them on my to do list for the day or trying to do them right before bed.

[00:32:34] And secondly, I committed to doing them before picking up my phone and being hit with a ton of notifications requiring my attention or becoming distracted by browsing Instagram, which I used to spend about an hour doing while still sitting in bed in the morning. And I’m now working on extending that phone free time in the mornings for an extra hour or two to dedicate to writing.

[00:32:55] I managed it for a few months last year with really great results, I got about 35, 000 words of a book down in a matter of weeks, which is super fast for me. But as I said during the introductory episode, I’m human. I’m not perfect, and I really want to be honest with you. So I don’t mind admitting that somewhere around July or August I fell off the wagon and I haven’t been able to get back on.

[00:33:18] But, writing is one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2023, and I’m actively working on making it stick by prioritising it in the morning. So I will keep you posted and let you know how that goes.

[00:33:30] The fifth and final tip, tip #5, is to minimise stress and practise mindful meditation. Now, I’m well aware that this is easier said than done. Life is inherently stressful, and for some people, mindful meditation might feel a bit like wishy washy hocus pocus. And I’ll be the first to admit that while I’m intrigued by mindfulness and have dabbled a bit, it’s not something that I currently practice. So, this tip is one of those that’s based more on research evidence than it is on personal experience.

[00:33:59] But nonetheless, the science does make sense. So, first of all, let’s talk about stress. When you’re stressed, cortisol, which is the stress hormone, increases, and we see a decrease in the activity in your prefrontal cortex. Remember, this is the home of your willpower.

[00:34:16] And you revert back to habits as a default behaviour when you feel stressed, regardless of how strong you might think your willpower is, because stress uses up a lot of energy, and your brain is once again trying to conserve it. That’s why you’re more likely to reach for that glass of wine, or the box of chocolate, or the TV remote after a long and stressful day.

[00:34:34] So you need to do whatever you can to minimise stress. And that looks different for different people. Take a break and go for a walk to clear your head, read a book, head to a boxing class and take out your stress on a punching bag, or treat yourself to an hour long aromatherapy massage. Whatever it is and whatever it takes, do what you can to minimise the stress in your life.

[00:34:57] Now, mindful meditation can also be one of the ways that you reduce stress, and it works a little differently in the context of willpower. It typically involves sitting silently and paying attention to your thoughts, sounds, your breathing, how your body feels, all without judgment, and bringing your attention back to the present moment whenever you feel like your mind is starting to wander.

[00:35:19] Some people find that this really helps in stressful situations as a way to keep calm and re-center themselves. But there are potentially bigger benefits to practicing mindful meditation regularly, in that it may improve your self control by helping you to recognise and then let go of distracting emotions or thoughts.

[00:35:39] So, in the context of resolutions, if, for example, you’re trying to focus on your side hustle, you can recognise and discard unhelpful thoughts and emotions such as, “what if I’m not good enough to pull this off?” or, “I must remember to hang the laundry out before going to bed” or, “I wonder how Beyoncé started out? Let me Google it.”

[00:35:59] Learning to let go of these thoughts and emotions will help you remain focused in pursuit of your goals. So mindful meditation can really be helpful in our quest to stay on track. So these are your 5 tips for maximising your willpower: minimise distractions and reduce temptations in your environment; embrace good routines; minimise unnecessary decisions and cognitive processing; time your little decisions and your technology usage very carefully; and minimise stress and practise mindful meditation.

[00:36:33] That’s it for today’s episode and I hope that you’ve enjoyed it and found these tips useful. You can find show notes for the episode over on my website at And if you do decide to try out any of these tips then I’d love to hear how you got on. Have they helped you to stay on track with your goals and New Year’s resolutions in 2023? You can either leave a comment on the show notes page or email me directly at

[00:37:03] I know that you’re busy and your time is valuable so, as always, I thank you for choosing to spend a little of your day with me and I’ll see you next time.

Keep in touch with me

Get Unplugged

Unplugged is a short weekly newsletter designed to help you put the focus back on yourself, your wellbeing, and your life offline. Expect a question or prompt to reflect on, a digital wellness challenge to try in your own life, the cliff notes for any advice, tips, or tech-life hacks discussed on my podcast, and info about upcoming coaching programmes and events.

You can unsubscribe at any time and I'll never send you spam – ever.
Marisha Pink

Meet Marisha

Marisha Pink is a Certified Digital Wellness Coach who is on a mission to empower women everywhere to live life more intentionally in an age of digital distractions. She helps women create healthier digital habits that better balance the technology in their lives, so that they can take back control of their time, reclaim their happiness, and live their best lives offline.

Pin It on Pinterest