Willpower! What is it and How Do I Get it?
“Willpower is the art of replacing one habit for another”. Michael Garofalo
What’s the big deal about willpower anyway? What is it? Isn’t that just for people who don’t know how to have fun?
Perhaps the word ‘willpower’ brings up images of self deprivation. It might seem like willpower is something for Olympic athletes, or ‘perfect people’ who don’t seem to share the same human struggles as you do. Maybe you’ve felt like you just aren’t someone who is ‘willpower material’.
Research has found that people who practice their will power tend to live healthier, wealthier, and happier lives. These are some powerful incentives for acquiring more will power! Whatever it is that you want in your life - anything from deeper connections with family, a more organized home environment, a richer social life, a healthier body, a, or a healthier bank account - it can likely be improved with more intentional use of willpower. All of us can benefit from building our capacity for willpower!
I like the definition from superconsciousness.com who defines willpower as “the ability to choose our actions instead of being their slaves”.
Roy Baumeister, social psychologist and expert on the topic of will power, says “what separates us from the animals is our capacity to restrain our impulses- resist temptation- do what’s right and good for us in the long run, not what we want to do right now”.
These definitions speak to the importance of living true to our values and also to the sense of empowerment that comes from exhibiting self control. The accomplishment of taking responsibility to live the life you’ve wanted - instead of adapting a passive and helpless role - builds joy in life as well.
Will power involves the ability to delay gratification. It’s about asking ourselves what we really want versus what we want right now. What temptation is it that you most struggle with? Is it the chocolate in the pantry? The tendency to overspend with the ease of a ‘click’ form the laptop? Maybe it’s that cigarette calling you, or one too many drinks. Or, maybe it’s the onset of the day - getting up when the alarm goes off, or going to bed in time to get adequate sleep.
Whatever your struggle may be, there are some action items you can take that actually help improve willpower. Psychologist and author, Kelly McGonigal, writes about things you can do that can help you build your willpower ‘muscle’.
The first is an unexpected one - meditation. Perhaps the idea of mediation conjures up images of a guru sitting in lotus position for hours while completely ‘blanking out’ all thoughts. Dr. McGonigal says that a 5 minute daily challenge of sitting quietly and focusing on your breath can help you do everything from smoking cessation to becoming sober. She says that meditating is a way to exercise and train your brain towards willpower.
Second, is physical exercise. Did you know that exercise can improve your ability to practice willpower? Even 5 minutes of exercise will help improve your willpower. The next time you’re feeling tempted to yield to your unhealthy habit of choice, give yourself a 5 minute intervention and do some calisthenics!
Third, adequate sleep is vital your ability to practice will power. Have you ever noticed that you are more likely to indulge/be undisciplined when you are tired? Sleep truly is foundational to all of our endeavors.
Fourth, McGonigal also suggests building your willpower muscle by doing something disagreeable daily - it may be as minimal as using good posture, or making yourself wash those dishes in the sink. It could be omitting the sugar from your coffee. Regularly taking small, consistent steps like this will help you build your willpower capacity. Use baby steps here - it’s not recommended to take on too much at once.
Equally foundational is a well nourished body. It’s going to be hard to resist anything if you are having drops in you blood sugar! (A Latte really isn’t a solid breakfast!) Food is fuel for both our body and our brain. Take care of this basic need to help set yourself up for success.
Building your willpower muscle is an effort well spent! Take the challenge! Be it meditation, physical exercise, sleep structure, improving nutrition to your body, or choosing small steps in doing something ‘uncomfortable’ - select something to incorporate into your life and notice how it affects your willpower!
I work with women on building willpower and incorporating healthier habits into their lives. If this is an area you’d like support with call Kay today!