As an addict in recovery you know that addiction is far more complicated than a failure of willpower. Drugs and alcohol cause chemical changes in your brain that encourage you to use them repeatedly. With more use come more alterations to the brain. These leave you nearly helpless in your attempts to stop using. However, once you have sought professional help and stopped using, you still face the possibility of relapse. Many factors come into play when you try to resist using again and one very important factor is your own willpower. You can improve your willpower to help you avoid relapsing.
What Is Willpower?
Willpower, also sometimes referred to as self-control, is a skill that can be developed. It is the ability to put off gratification and to not give into temptations. It also means ignoring impulses, overriding negative thoughts and emotions, and the ability to think and act in a conscious way rather than with emotions. Willpower is an important skill in many areas of your life. Without any self-control you might eat whatever you want, watch TV instead of going to work, or lash out at family members when you are frustrated. Lack of willpower could also lead you to start using again even though you know you shouldn’t.
Why Does Willpower Fail?
It is important to understand that everyone experiences lapses in willpower and self-control. As human beings we naturally lose control sometimes. Everyone, including addicts and non-addicts, suffers from willpower failure from time to time. Researchers have found that willpower seems to be a limited resource. It is not necessarily something that you have an unlimited store of, and as such, it can be depleted. Think of a muscle in your body. If you work it out constantly, it will eventually fail. Willpower is the same. Studies have demonstrated this in various ways. For instance, if you present someone with a delicious-looking cookie over and over, resisting the temptation to eat it will become more difficult. The person becomes fatigued by repeatedly exercising willpower and making the right choice.
Can Willpower Be Strengthened?
The good news, as you exercise your willpower to avoid relapsing, is that more current research has identified ways in which you can improve self-control. People who fatigue their ability to exert self-control do so because they believe they have no willpower. The belief in your own self-control is powerful. Researchers also suggest that pacing yourself when it comes to long-term willpower is necessary. For recovery and avoiding relapse you are running a marathon rather than a sprint. To enhance your willpower you need to believe in your ability to control your urges, and also understand your limitations and realize that you need to take it one day at a time.
The Power of Reward
Getting an immediate reward (a hit, a buzz, numbing pain) is what led you to become an addict in the first place, but rewards can also be positive in the battle to stay sober. One of the reasons people experience willpower fatigue is because they are constantly saying no to themselves with little noticeable reward. To help strengthen your willpower, you can reward yourself in positive ways. When you have resisted the urge to relapse for a period of time and you feel exhausted by the effort, give yourself a reward to help boost your willpower. This could be a day off from work, a short vacation, a new purchase you have been saving up for, or any other healthful reward. The more you work toward a successful recovery, the easier it will become to exert self-control and avoid relapse.