Power up: How to support your willpower

Callers to the Gambling Help telephone line often say, “I just have to have more willpower” as a strategy to manage their gambling.  Then, when exercising their willpower is not enough to reduce or stop gambling, they decide: “I am weak willed.” 

In reality, neither statement is true. 

When we are trying to change any habit — be it gambling, smoking, or eating chocolate — willpower alone usually isn’t enough. It is helpful to take the pressure off our willpower by setting up processes that promote the habits and behaviours we want to encourage.  For example, if we want to cut down on chocolate, we can help ourselves by avoiding that aisle in the supermarket and choosing not to keep any in the house.

Managing our gambling is the same. We can identify strategies to help reduce gambling activities, such as:

  • avoid going to a venue or checking out the form guide
  • limiting the number of gambling-related apps on our phones
  • making it more difficult to access our money or seeking a trusted friend to help manage our finances (see my blog post in July 2019, located here)

Your strategies might be different — think about what practical steps you can take to avoid the temptation in your own life.

It also helps to focus on what you will gain by not gambling. 

In Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, social psychologist and willpower expert Dr Roy Baumeister says that the amount of willpower any one person has fluctuates throughout their life, but also that willpower can be improved. So how can we better manage our willpower and boost it when necessary?  Dr Baumeister offered some tips in an interview with the ABC.

First: Willpower is limited and uses energy

If you repeatedly put yourself in a situation where you have to resist temptation, you’re more likely to fail — because every time you use your willpower, you use up a little of your energy. You need to avoid temptation as much as possible.

That means, that if you want to give up gambling, you should make a list of key temptations, then avoid them. Limit your contact with the people, places, and apps that remind you of gambling to conserve your willpower.

Second: Train your willpower like a muscle

Like any muscle, willpower will get stronger with exercise — but you also need to give it regular rests.  To train your willpower, try making small changes to your everyday patterns. Patterns of behaviour are strong and hard to break. Try to do something you do every day differently: like clean your teeth with your opposite hand, or walking down the stairs starting with your opposite foot.

Another way to exercise your willpower and gain control over your gambling behaviours might be to begin to monitor how you spend your money. The Money Smart website offers apps to help you. Once the benefit of the exercise becomes obvious you will be more likely to continue with the monitoring and more aware of when you may overspend on your gambling.

Third: Good nutrition boosts your willpower

Importantly, the energy that keeps our willpower running in prime condition is glucose — a type of sugar.  When glucose levels are low in our blood stream, we’re more likely to perform poorly on self-control.

This doesn’t mean that we can eat sweets and soft drinks all day to increase our willpower. A sensible diet that controls blood sugar levels over the course of the day is the best way to boost your willpower nutritionally. If you’re not sure how to achieve that, ask your GP to help you out.

Learn more about the science behind willpower

Changing your gambling habits will be a process of discovery. We can help you find your own path. If you would like to discuss any of these ideas further, call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak to a trained counsellor. 

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