Willpower | what is?

Willpower refers to the control deliberately exerted to do something or to restrain one’s own impulses. In other words, it refers to scenarios where you face a challenge in which your immediate desires fight with your long-term goals and objectives.

The strength of your willpower can be measured in three distinct ways including:

  • I won’t…
  • I will…
  • I want…

I Won’t…

Here your willpower is tested whenever you say “no” to something that your body and mind desperately desires to have. In other words, it’s reflected in your ability to avoid temptations or habits that you want to indulge in but at the same time logically understand that you need to avoid in order to achieve your desired goals and objectives.

I Will…

Here your willpower is tested whenever you choose to do something you dislike or don’t want to do. You undertake this activity because you understand that it supports your long-term goals and objectives, and thusly will help you create a better future. In other words, this form of willpower helps you accomplish tasks that are unpleasant but necessary for goal achievement. Typically people fail this test when they put off doing something that they know and understand is necessary for their success.

I Want…

Here your willpower manifests as a reminder of what you truly want to do, be, have and achieve in life. Now of course, what you want is what is best for you in the long-run, despite present temptations and immediate desires that are keeping this goal at bay. And in order to resist these present temptations you need an empowering goal that can help guide your actions moving forward. And it’s this goal that fuels your motivation. It reminds you what you truly have at stake at every moment.

Willpower is a Limited Resource

Studies have shown that willpower is actually a limited resource. Every single day we wake up with a limited supply, and this supply progressively gets used up throughout the day. It gets used up each and every time you make a decisions to do something. Whether that decision is a major or minor decisions makes no difference. Either way your willpower gets depleted.

You see, willpower is very much like a muscle. Each time you work this muscle it weakens slightly. And of course the heavier weights you lift (the bigger decisions you make) the less you’re able to lift on the next repetition. Willpower works in the same way but its strength is measured in your ability to maintain self-control, and thereby make effective decisions that can help you accomplish your long-term goals and objectives.

You are confronted with willpower challenges every single day. For example, deciding what to wear in the morning, sitting through your daily commute grind, having to attend endless meetings throughout the day, etc. All of these events drain your willpower reserves and you end up feeling exhausted at the end of the day.

You will notice that some very high achievers such as Steve Jobs (Apple) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) tend to wear the same items of clothing. For instance, Steve Jobs wore the same articles of clothing for each presentation. Now he of course might have had a great many reasons for this selection, however what’s clear is that by making this selection he now has one less decision that he needs to make throughout the day. And this is incredibly important, especially when you’re the head of a multi-billion dollar international company.

This all starts to make sense when you realize that when your willpower gets completely depleted you are far more likely to succumb to temptations or to fall back into self-sabotaging habits such as procrastination. Instant gratification takes over (you look for the easy way out and try to avoid making decisions) and you struggle to stay focused when working on undesirable activities that lead to the accomplishment of your long-term goals. This is of course problematic, but you can most certainly replenish your willpower supplies throughout the day.

Replenishing Your Willpower Supplies

There are numerous ways to replenish your supply of willpower. One way to do this is through meditation. Meditation works incredibly well because it increases your self-awareness. And when you are more self-aware you are less likely to get distracted and sidetracked throughout the day. This is important because trying to make decisions while distracted significantly drains your willpower.

High levels of stress is another factors that eats away at your supply of willpower. It eats away at your willpower because it makes you feel bad, which subsequently motivates you to do something that makes you feel better. And typically that something leads to satisfying some form of craving that isn’t good for you (indicating a lack of self-control).

One of the best ways to strengthen your willpower is to improve your stress-resistance. Eating healthy foods (raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains), partaking in regular exercise, getting enough rest and a good night’s sleep will help you to effectively reduce stress, and thereby also replenish your willpower reserves.

You can also strengthen your willpower muscle by keeping a temptation at arm’s reach (e.g. a candy bar) throughout the day that you are not allowed to touch under any circumstances. Every single time you resist this temptation you strengthen your willpower muscle, which will subsequently serve you when you face other willpower challenges in the future.

Now of course not reaching out for this candy bar will be a struggle. You will struggle because your brain views this candy bar as a pleasurable reward, and as a result it releases a neurotransmitter within your brain called dopamine. This makes the candy bar seem irresistible because dopamine is directly responsible for attention, motivation and action. And of course, when dopamine is flooding your system logic takes a backseat and it’s therefore easy for you to do something that goes against your best interests (such as eating the candy bar), which feels great at first but leaves you feeling guilty and dissatisfied afterward.

In order to avoid this willpower trap, you need to prevent dopamine levels from rising (see: pain-pleasure principle). In other instances, you can combine unpleasant tasks with something pleasant that raises your dopamine levels. For instance, studying for an exam overlooking a beautiful view on top of a hill in a park can help keep focused and motivated on your studies.

Another way to strengthen your willpower is to hang around people who have a high level of self-control. The more time you spend with people who don’t fall victim to temptations the more likely you are to exhibit the same levels of self-control in your own life.

But of course in the end, nothing beats a good night’s sleep. A good night’s sleep always helps replenish your supply of willpower in preparation for the next day.

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