Usually, when we hear the word willpower, we relate it to losing weight or quitting smoking. Willpower is extremely helpful when trying to break those bad habits, but it can also be beneficial in other areas of your life as well. 

I’m sure that you’ve heard that your willpower is a muscle. The more you use it, the better it gets. And like a muscle, some experts believe that it can get fatigued from overuse.

What is willpower?

Before we can start building our willpower muscle, we need to know what it is. 

Willpower is a tricky concept. We all want to develop it to break bad habits or reach a particular goal, yet in order to do so, we must be willing to go the extra mile and fully commit ourselves to our success. 

According to the American Psychological Association, willpower is the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.

Why build willpower?

It’s important to realize that we’re not born with willpower; it’s something we must nurture and build in ourselves. Once we strengthen our willpower, it’ll provide us with an upper hand in achieving our goals. Why? Because we’ll develop an unshakeable focus and intensity in purpose.

The Marshmallow Test

You’re probably familiar with this test or experiment, even if you don’t know what it’s called.

The marshmallow test or experiment was to understand when the control of delayed gratification develops in children. Children were put in a low distraction room, one at a time, and told if they didn’t eat the marshmallow (delay gratification) they could have more after a certain time frame.

It’s important because when building your willpower there are often little to no immediate rewards. And we need to think of the end result while working on goal setting.

The benefits of willpower

Willpower can help you build systems and routines into your life to set you up for success.

It’s correlated with positive outcomes like greater financial security, lower substance abuse rates, better grades and improved physical health.

In building your willpower you will improve your concentration and focus skills. Which is great for studying and during the workday. And by increasing concentration and focus, you participate in the simple act of building self-awareness. Helping you build a level of high self-control that lasts in the long run.

This component of self-control is also largely ignored by the unidimensional willpower-as-muscle perspective that dominates today’s discussions.

Dr Carl Erik Fisher, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University.

1. Commitment

Before anything, you need to be committed to reaching your goals. And if you aren’t completely committed to what you want to achieve, it will be incredibly hard to build the willpower you need.

Being successful in achieving your goals means no second thoughts, excuses or doubts. Be honest with yourself and know that this is something that you truly want to see through.

Just having ambition will not guarantee you will accomplish anything. You can have high hopes without any kind of commitment. So make sure that you distinguish between the two and take action.

2. Inner strength

Building willpower takes perseverance. During difficult times, you will need to call on your inner strength to give you that extra push to get through.

You’ve made the commitment to go on a hornet to build and strengthen your willpower and accomplish your goals. And the truth is, you’ll have many days of success. But there will be days when you fail. It’s on those days of failure that you will call on your inner strength to get you back on track.

You are born with inner strength. But just like willpower, it’s like a muscle that needs to be used. Trust in your inner strength to guide you through the rough patches.

3. Ask for help

Building your willpower to achieve your goals can be a large undertaking. It can even get overwhelming at times. And that is why asking for help can be so important.

Entrust your close friend, partner or other family members with what you are working towards. So then when (not if!) you hit a stumbling block, you have someone that you trust to help you get back on track.

Your support system is a great asset to help you through the hard times and celebrate your success with you.

4. Consistency

When you have the willpower to do something for one week, you also have the willpower to do it for two weeks. And it just keeps going.

You need o keep up with your positive behaviours all day and every day. Soon enough that consistency will turn into sustained willpower. It will also help limit your excuses.

Everything improves as you continue to build your willpower, and keep pushing yourself forward.

5. Celebrate your wins

If you have the willpower to avoid smoking for one day, celebrate it. One day doesn’t magically turn you into a non-smoker. But it is where everyone starts on their journey to quitting.

Take some time to celebrate some of the small wins. It can encourage you to keep going.

6. Set yourself up for success

Sometimes you need to do things in order to make life easier for yourself. And setting yourself up for success in building your reserve of willpower is no exception.

You can set yourself up for success by being prepared.

If you are trying to quit smoking, remove cigarettes and lighters from your home.

If you want to go to bed earlier, set the alarm to remind you it’s time for bed.

If you are trying to start an exercise routine when you get up in the morning, set your clothes out the night before.

If you are trying to minimise your alcohol intake, find alternate drinks that you really enjoy.

Giving up bad habits like smoking, drinking eating too much junk food, or abusing credit cards.

Starting good habits like getting enough sleep, exercising during your lunch break or starting a new habit like writing a to-do list.

Want to learn more about willpower?

You can learn a lot from reading, or listening, to books. And these books are the best-selling books on willpower. Go get that instant gratification!


The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal

Based on Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal’s wildly popular course The Science of Willpower. It’s the first book to explain the science of self-control and how it can be harnessed to improve our health, happiness, and productivity. It also includes the willpower challenge.


Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister

Research psychologist Roy F. Baumeister collaborates with New York Times science writer John Tierney to change our understanding of the most coveted human virtue; willpower.


The Power of Discipline: How to Use Self Control and Mental Toughness to Achieve Your Goals by Daniel Walter

Master self-discipline by targeting certain areas of the brain, like the prefrontal cortex, and learn the self-discipline secrets of Navy SEALSs and Zen Buddhists.

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