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The Power of the Mind: Everything You Need to Know About Willpower

Norbert Juma
Published on June 12, 2020 8:00 AM EST
The Power of the Mind Everything You Need to Know About Willpower

Willpower is one of the most important qualities a person can have. With willpower comes patience, understanding, and overall better self-control. Without willpower, people become slaves to their urges and cravings, unable to control themselves when it matters most.

This can lead to a host of health and restraint issues in a person’s life. What’s worse, the less willpower someone has, the less they’ll be able to do to correct these issues.

The Power of the Mind Everything You Need to Know About Willpower

So, what can you do if you have a lack of willpower? Can you build willpower like a muscle? Keep reading to learn everything you need about willpower.

What Is Willpower?

Let’s start off simple: What is willpower?

To properly define willpower, we can separate it into its two base words: will, and power. Will refers to your ability to make decisions. Every living person has free will, meaning you can make your own choices in any and all circumstances.

A ‘wilful’ person is someone who does what they want when they want. They’re not held back by anything. This isn’t always a good thing, though.

A truly wilful person will often do what they want regardless of laws, rules, or what’s best for others. This can lead to problems with relationships, health, and the law. That’s where willpower comes in.

The ‘power’ half of ‘willpower’ refers to the ability to exercise your will. Someone with strong willpower can read a situation and assert their will in the best possible way. They do what they want when they want, but they can also show restraint towards what they want to do.

Someone who is purely wilful may, for example, eat two pieces of cake rather than one simply because they like the taste. They may consider the negative health impacts, but do it anyway. Someone with excellent willpower will restrain from eating that second piece of cake because they know it’s bad for them.

Willpower is all about your ability to delay gratification for the betterment of yourself and those around you. It’s about brushing aside immediate temptation and reward in pursuit of a larger, further-off goal.

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The Importance of Willpower

Considering this, having willpower is much more desirable than having will alone.

Someone with willpower is able to make the best choices for themselves and others. They can better lead people, and help them train their own willpower. Those with great willpower are often healthier, happier, and have much more self-control when temptation rears its ugly head.

Willpower isn’t just helpful in making simple dietary choices, though. You can exercise your willpower to avoid getting angry in dubious situations, to stick to an important exercise regiment, and to step in and assist someone in need. Willpower is the driving force in making good decisions.

Without willpower, it’s easy to get into bad situations for both yourself and others. A lack of willpower is how addictions start, all the way from Facebook addictions to pornography and drug dependencies. It goes without saying how detrimental these can be to anyone’s life.

Doing what you want when you want can feel like a powerful move, but showing powerful restraint is always more powerful.

Like Warren Buffet says, “True power is restraint. If words control you, that means everyone else can control you. Breathe, and allow things to pass.”

Why Is It So Hard to Exercise Willpower?

For many people, exercising proper willpower is a difficult task. Why is this?

Biologically, our brains love instant gratification. When we do things we want and love to do we experience a rush of dopamine. We feel happier and more content right away, which reduces our stress levels.

Often the easiest way to feel that instant gratification is by doing what we want and brushing aside the negative consequences. Your brain lives moment-to-moment, with no consideration of future detriments. It would rather, say, play video games for a few hours than work out or go to a lecture.

When it comes to exercising willpower you really are at war with your brain. You need to train your brain to desire instant gratification less, and treasure hard-sought rewards more. For those who have never tried to train their willpower before, this can be very difficult at first.

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Many people with no willpower give up shortly after trying to correct themselves. They wonder: Is it even possible to develop your willpower? Or is it just something you’re born with?

Can Willpower Be Developed?

For some, willpower comes a lot easier than others. Some people are able to exercise willpower with ease, while others are not. What’s more, some people have willpower in certain situations, and then none in others.

Thankfully, willpower is not concrete. It is not awarded or withheld when you’re born. You can train your willpower, and become a more self-disciplined person no matter who you are.

Before training your willpower, there are some important things to know. One of the most fascinating realizations to make is that willpower is not exactly infinite.

Willpower Fatigue

A fascinating study, performed by Roy Baumeister, shows that willpower is finite.

In the study, participants were encouraged to resist eating specific tempting foods. Afterward, they were asked to perform a series of mental tasks. The study found that those who resisted the food did worse in the mental tasks, as their willpower had been exhausted to a degree.

The study shows that you can exhaust your willpower reserves if you perform too many self-control-focused actions. Our willpower weakens as we use it too often, making it easier for us to succumb to temptation.  In this way, willpower can be considered finite to a degree.

That’s not to say once your willpower is depleted it won’t regenerate. It’s just not an ever-present quality we possess.

Those with little self-control may find their willpower reserves deplete faster than those with decent self-control. Like a muscle, you need to train your willpower through mental exercise, but avoid over-exerting it, to increase your reserves.

So, how can you build willpower?

How to Develop Willpower

The only way to properly develop willpower is to practice willpower. 

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Consider a bodybuilder. Those muscles didn’t come out of nowhere. What’s more, the bodybuilder had no muscle when they began their journey, and had no prior bodybuilding experience — they just started working out no matter how hard the journey.

To become a successful bodybuilder you need determination. You need to envision the long-term goal and want it. Then, you have to stick to your journey, the hardest part.

The same goes for exercising willpower. It’ll be hard and tiring at first, but it gets easier as you go on. You just need to get through that initial push and stick with it.

Here are some ways you can start building your willpower.

Eat a Proper Diet

For many, food is the ultimate temptation.

If you frequently eat sugary, salty, or otherwise unhealthy food your body starts to crave it. Your mouth will water at the sight of it. You’re more than willing to brush the long-term negative health impacts aside for that short-term gratification.

One of the easiest ways to train your willpower is by slowly weaning yourself onto a good diet. Make a list of healthy food and stick to it when you go to the grocery store. Don’t pick up any unhealthy snacks, no matter how tempted you are.

When you need a snack, go for the healthy option. When you make supper, make something nutritional. The more you can resist your favorite junk foods, the stronger your willpower gets.

You don’t need to stop eating bad food altogether, you just need to treat it as a reward. Which brings us to our next point…

Set up a Reward System

Willpower is all about delaying short-term, easy rewards for long-term, deserved rewards.

The human brain loves instant gratification — that’s just how it’s built. Once you know this, you can more easily fight against that urge. You can train your brain to know instant gratification isn’t coming, and it’s going to need to fight to get what it wants.

Spend some time determining your long-term goals and a path towards them. Write them down, and how you plan on achieving them. Then, assign awards to each milestone in the process.

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By awarding yourself this way you’re training your willpower and your brain in general. You’re teaching your brain to work for its rewards rather than expect them without any effort. To make the process easier, start with more frequent rewards and space them out as you get further along in the process.

Don’t Get Stressed

There’s a proven connection between stress and self-control.

When you get stressed out, your brain craves an immediate reward. This can come in any form, from bad food to pornography to videogames. You’re much more likely to brush off more important tasks for more rewarding tasks when you’re stressed.

If you feel yourself getting stressed out, breathe. Take a minute to put things into perspective and calm down. Consider all the progress you’ve made towards your willpower and refuse to let that get damaged.

Sleep Well

The best way to combat willpower fatigue, and increase your reserves, is by sleeping well.

Your brain’s energy level has a direct impact on willpower fatigue. The more energized your brain, the more it can put up with. You never know when a day will require you to exert your willpower, so it’s best to be well rested whenever possible.

There are a lot of different opinions on the perfect amount of sleep, so it’s best to experiment a little. Generally, anywhere between 7 and 8 hours a night should be plenty.

Sticking to a set bedtime and hours of rest is an exercise in willpower itself. By getting a good amount of sleep you’re training your willpower in more ways than you probably realize.

Exercise

If you want to exercise your willpower, exercise your body — it’s as simple as that.

Sticking to a good exercise regiment is one of the most willpower-intensive things anyone can do. It’s also one of the most rewarding. Even if you only exercise for twenty minutes a day, you’re still exercising your willpower by refusing to give up.

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Exercise offers very little in the way of instant gratification. It can take weeks, or even months to see considerable change. Once you see that change, though — whether its better muscle definition, a six-pack, or an increase in energy — your brain will be overwhelmed with gratification.

Once you get that gratification you’ll notice a huge boost in overall willpower. You’ll understand the importance of the journey towards gratification. Your brain will better understand that hard work equals the best rewards, making long journeys for gratification much easier.

Meditate

A lot of people tend to brush off meditation as nonsense, but they would be surprised how helpful it can be.

You don’t need to sit cross-legged with your fingertips touching going “ooohm” to meditate. Just go into a quiet room, listen to some ambient noise if you’d like, close your eyes, and breathe. Meditation is all about doing nothing but sitting with your thoughts.

Meditation isn’t just great for your health, but it’s one of the ultimate tests of willpower. By meditating you’re putting off every other temptation in favor of peace and quiet. The more you meditate, the longer you’ll be able to do it, and the easier it will become.

If you can sit and meditate for even 15 minutes without letting the outside world distract you, you’re on your way to stronger willpower.

It’s Time to Become Willpowerful

Now that you know what willpower is and how to train it, it’s time to visit the willpower gym. Thankfully, the willpower gym is anywhere and everywhere, and it costs absolutely nothing.

The journey to great willpower isn’t easy, but it’s one of the most worthy journey anyone can take. All it takes is a little motivation and the right strategy. If you’re looking for a way to get motivated, click here to visit Everyday Power’s motivation articles. We’ll do our best to help you in your journey, whatever it may be.

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