Is it possible to get more willpower?
The 10 million dollar question, contemplated at some point in life by virtually everyone on earth...
We have all been born with the capacity for willpower... but some of us use it more than others. Those of us who have better control of our attention, our emotions, and actions seem to be better off in almost every area of life we examine. These folks are happier and healthier. Their relationships are more satisfying and last longer. They make more money and go further in their careers. They are better able to manage stress, deal with conflict, and overcome adversity. They even live longer. It has even been proven that self control is a better predictor of academic success than intelligence. Makes sense now that you think about it, right?!
Historically, one of the most replicated findings in academic psychology and willpower research suggests that people who use their willpower, seem to run out of it. So, activities like choosing the salad over the cookie, controlling one's temper or making ourselves study instead of watching a movie... all of these tap the same source of strength, therefore leaving us with less of this power left over for completely unrelated challenges. Serious bummer. What has also been reflected in the studies, is that our willpower seems to decrease over the course of the day. So, these findings would have us believe that this "muscle" becomes exhausted from effort, and that basically... there's a finite amount of this power and once we use it up... it's curtains! Even more serious bummer! But stay with me...
What if we look at this muscle just like any other muscle in the body? Through exercise, we make our muscles stronger... So, can we train this "willpower muscle" too?!
Good news. YES! Research also shows that as we use our self control over time, this "workout" increases our willpower's strength and endurance. Yeah! As we make these new choices, the new behaviors become habitual and then the old temptations become less compelling and overwhelming.
So... uh, how the heck do we get more of it?
Let's reframe the Willpower topic into a three part model that we can work with. Will power, won't power and want power!
1. Won't Power - When you think of something that requires willpower, the first thing that probably comes to mind is some version of saying NO to something right? Resisting the temptation to eat the doughnut, the temptation to watch the next 3 episodes of reality tv instead of go to the gym, or to keep from spending your remaining paycheck on your favorite shopping website. So, this ability to say no... we'll call this Won't power.
2. Will Power - At some point, all those things you've been putting off? They've gotta get done. When you finally push past all the procrastination and anxiety... and access your Will power... This is the ability to do the thing you need to do, even when part of you really doesn't want to.
3. Want Power - So in order to say no when we need to say no, and yes when we need to say yes, we also need this last element... the ability to remember what it is that we really want so that we can choose in alignment with it. Example - even though we think in the moment that what we want is the expensive sweater we've been eyeing online... it will be important for us to know what we really want... which is maybe that end of the year trip we've been saving for ALL winter. We'll call this our Want power.
Very simply put... willpower is about harnessing these three powers... I will, I won’t, and I want. When we can see our own individual life's examples in one of these three categories, we can start to see more clearly and objectively, what momentary choices are in or out of alignment with the ultimate goal that we say we want.
By spending more time in conscious thought around these ideas, you are already increasing self awareness, which leads to more empowered decision making. It's also important to acknowledge that our decisions and choices are largely impacted by our sleep, our stress and our nutrition. When any of these areas is off kilter, we can expect to have lessened access to our willpower!
So, when those willpower challenges seem insurmountable, just remember that willpower is not an innate trait that you’re either born with or without - it's a mind-body connection and process that will respond positively to your conditioning. This means that we can most certainly take an active role in increasing our willpower!
Hi! I'm Margaret. My passion is connecting with people and helping them remember their awesomeness. I love healthy vibrant colorful food, travel, yoga, being outdoors, my goofy Bernese Mountain dog Charlie and finding spirituality in the everyday. I see this life as a giant playground where we get to play and learn and expand everyday! xoxo! Margaret