Five Surefire Ways to Strengthen Your Willpower


August 24, 2010   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Willpower can be defined as having the ability to get yourself to take the necessary actions which will move you closer toward achieving your goals, and having the ability to refrain from taking action which will move you away from your goals. It’s strongly related to the concepts of self-discipline and self-control. Your success in life – and your ability to achieve your life goals – is largely dependent on your ability to summon the willpower to take right action.

It’s six o’clock in the afternoon and you’re sitting on the couch watching TV; even though you’ve made the decision to go out for a jog each weekday evening at this time, you can’t get yourself to turn off the TV and get up off the couch.

You’re on a diet, but you walk passed a bakery and the aroma of freshly baked goods lures you in. Even though you’re trying to save money, and new clothes are not on your budget, there’s a fabulous sale at your favorite store and you just can’t resist the temptation to stop by. Where’s your willpower when you need it the most? Below you’ll discover five surefire ways to strengthen your willpower, so that it’s available for you when you’re striving to reach your goals.

Use Your Willpower to Alter the Terrain
In The Path of Least Resistance, Robert Fritz argues that “once a structure exists, energy moves through that structure by the path of least resistance. That is, energy moves where it is easiest for it to go.” Fritz explains that the roads in Boston, Massachusetts were formed by utilizing existing cow paths. The cows moving through the topography took one step after the other, moving where it was easiest to go, maybe avoiding a rock or taking the smallest incline. Each time the cows passed through the same area, the path became more and more clearly defined.So, what do cows and the roads in Boston have to do with willpower? Your willpower is limited. If your strategy for achieving your goals is to rely on willpower alone, you will fail. A better approach is to use your willpower to create a structure that will allow your energy to move in the direction that is most conducive to achieving your goals.In his article Self-Discipline: Willpower, Steve Pavlina, owner of the blog Personal Development for Smart People, explains that willpower is like a one-shot thruster. It burns out quickly, but it can give you the burst of energy that you need in order to overcome inertia and create momentum. He indicates that you shouldn’t rely on willpower to give you the fuel that you need to get up each day and take the necessary action to be able to achieve your goals; instead, you should use your willpower in order to alter the terrain in order to make it more conducive to the accomplishment of your goals.

For example, suppose that you want to lose 20 pounds. You need to use your willpower in order to create a plan on how you’re going to lose 20 pounds; in addition, use your willpower to create the conditions that will allow you to lose those 20 pounds. Your plan could be the following:

  • Get rid of all of the junk food in your house.
  • Find and purchase a great cookbook filled with healthy recipes.
  • Make a list of sample meals and post it up on your refrigerator.
  • Make a list of the ingredients you’re going to need to purchase each week and establish a day and time to go grocery shopping.
  • Set a day and time when you’re going to prepare meals in bulk and freeze them.
  • Set up a weight chart to keep track of your weight, percentage of body fat, and waist circumference, and post it up in your bathroom.
  • Purchase a good quality scale that will allow you to weigh yourself and keep track of your percentage of body fat each week.

Then you execute your plan; you use your willpower to carry out all of the following actions: throwing out all of your junk food, purchasing the cookbook, choosing healthy meals, etc. Once you’ve used that initial burst of willpower to alter the terrain, it will be much easier to get up each day and walk along the path you’ve cleared out. In fact, the more you do it, the easier it gets (Just like the cows in Boston).

When Temptation Beckons, Think of Your Long-Term Goals
Kathleen Vohs, Professor of Marketing at the University of Minnesota, explains that in lab studies, self-control is boosted when people conjure up powerful memories of their long-term goals. She notes that self-control problems occur because people are caught up “in the moment” and are distracted from their long-term goals. For example, you want to look good in a bathing suit, but you’re looking at a chocolate chip cookie now. Dr. Vohs indicates that if you start thinking of your long-term objectives, that cools off the tempting stimuli. Although it’s a good idea to live in the now, when you’re being tempted by a stimulus which threatens to derail you from the path toward reaching your goals, shift your focus to the future. (Source).

Repeat a Mantra to Strengthen Your Willpower
Jim Randel is the author of The Skinny on Willpower; he’s spent thirty years studying the subjects of willpower and self-discipline. One of the techniques he recommends to help you strengthen your willpower is to repeat a mantra. For example, if you’re trying to cut down on your spending in order to get yourself out of debt, and you’re in a situation in which you’re being tempted to spend money on something that you don’t really need, you can begin repeating the following mantra to yourself: “Free from the shackles of debt”.

As a second illustration, if your goal is to compete in a marathon in December, and it’s time to go out for your daily run, begin repeating the following mantra: “Marathon – December, Marathon – December, Marathon – December”, in order to muster up the willpower to get out there and go for a run.

Meditate Your Way to Greater Willpower
Meditating for a few minutes each day can help you boost your willpower. Mindful meditation builds up gray matter in areas of the brain that regulate emotions and govern decision making. This means that when faced with the choice of stopping by McDonald’s on the way home from work, or going home and making a chicken salad from last night’s leftovers, you’ll be better equipped to make the healthier choice. (Source)

Having a Good Breakfast Will Help You Strengthen Your Willpower
Matthew Gailliot, Ph.D, a researcher at the University of Amsterdam, argues that glucose–which is the primary fuel of the body–is also the fuel of willpower. In fact, willpower is very expensive; it uses up a lot of glucose. In a set of studies conducted by Gailliot and his colleagues in 2007, participants were required to control their thoughts, emotions or behavior. Immediately following each act of self-control, participants’ blood glucose levels were measured. Their blood glucose levels dropped. Levels did not drop during similar tasks in which participants were not exerting self-control.

When participants were asked to repeat the acts of self-control, those whose blood glucose levels had dropped the most from the first task, performed the worst on the second attempt. They had depleted the fuel that was available to them to exercise their willpower. Participants who were given a sugary drink between tasks–allowing them to replenish their blood glucose levels–were better able to exert their willpower in the second attempt. However, Gailliot doesn’t recommend eating lots of sugary foods, but choosing foods which keep glucose levels stable, and making sure not to skip meals. (Source).

Roy F. Baumeister, PhD, now a researcher at Florida State University, is the world’s foremost expert on willpower. He explains that willpower is not a personality trait, a skill or a virtue. Instead, it operates like a muscle. As such, it can be easily exhausted but it can also be strengthened. Apply the five strategies explained above and watch your willpower muscles grow as you move closer and closer to achieving your life goals.

Written on 8/24/2010 by Marelisa Fábrega. Marelisa blogs about creativity, productivity, and simplifying your life over at Abundance Blog at Marelisa Online. Marelisa is the author of the eBook How To Live Your Best Life – The Essential Guide for Creating and Achieving Your Life List; wake up each morning to a life that’s centered around your life goals, instead of trying to fit what’s most important to you into the nooks and crannies. Photo Credit: BergTender

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