The science of willpower: 4 steps to better self-control


It’s now four months into 2022. If the research is anything to go by, over 95% of the people reading this newsletter would have given up, changed, or completely forgotten about those ambitious New Year resolutions.


In one of my previous blog posts, I discussed habits, the underlying programming that we all share that shapes our character and our destiny. 


However, there was another piece to the puzzle that I’ve yet to cover: willpower, the act of disciplining ourselves to do things we wouldn’t otherwise do and stick to them.


I don’t need to remind you why willpower is essential. To become successful in life, we need to do the things that other people aren’t willing to do, from waking up early and exercising to reading a non-fiction book for 30 minutes per day. 


Success is a result of discipline, as it is about creating the habit.




What is willpower?


There are plenty of articles and videos floating around the internet, each with its interpretation of willpower. To keep things simple, I’ll be using the following definition of willpower for this article:


“Willpower is the ability to discipline yourself to do tasks that you don’t want to do yet know that you should do.”


Most people understand willpower at a conceptual level, and most people can exercise constraints under given circumstances. However, I can hazard a guess and say that there are several items on your to-do list or your High Payoff Activities list (HPA) as I like to call them, that you haven’t bothered making a start on yet? 


Why? Because you lack the willpower or motivation to make a start because it makes you feel uncomfortable, am I right?


By developing your willpower, you’re increasing your ability to do what other people aren’t willing to do, thus opening the doors to thinking bigger, being better, achieving more, and creating better opportunities for yourself and your business.


Here are my four principles for developing willpower:



1) Willpower is like a muscle that gets better with practice.


I often find it helpful to use an analogy when explaining the importance of willpower at my workshops, and I hope you’ll find it useful.


Willpower is like a muscle, albeit psychological in nature. If you condition it, use it, and train it regularly, it will become stronger. If you neglect it, however, it’ll become weak and atrophy.


But willpower, by its nature, can be challenging to develop if you don’t have much will, to begin with. Such a realisation would be enough to put most people off even trying to start their journey of self-improvement. However, it doesn’t have to be so challenging to make a start.


The journey of a hundred miles starts with a single step, and your journey to improving your willpower can begin with small actions instead of grand gestures. Science has shown that this is the best method for enhancing your self-discipline!


I have a challenge for you.


Starting tomorrow morning, start with a small task that requires willpower, and deliberately force yourself to perform the job regardless of the discomfort you’ll feel. 


An example could be opening the fridge and choosing to drink a glass of fruit juice or water instead of fizzy juice or finishing off sending that email or making that call you’ve been procrastinating on for weeks.


Science tells us that willpower can be developed only through consistent, focused, intentional action. The best method for building your willpower is to practice in small, seemingly insignificant ways before attempting to challenge larger tasks.


2) Willpower is contagious


As it turns out, good traits always attract their flock. Willpower is contagious, and research has shown that if you hang out with people who can exercise restraint and self-discipline, you, in turn, will develop the trait within yourself. 


Review your social circle: are your acquaintances helping you grow as a person? 


Or are they holding you back?


3) We have more willpower at the start of the day


This might sound counterintuitive, as many people would love nothing more than to hit snooze on their alarm clocks in the morning. But numerous studies have been done, and the results are concrete: we have more willpower during the morning, and it gradually weakens over the day. 


I often advise my clients to get their most challenging tasks ticked off their High Payoff Activities list (HPA) at the start of the working day and leave the more mundane, repetitive tasks for later in the day.


4) Physiology and willpower


The research has also shown how our physiology affects our willpower. The most notable example is the effect of sleep (or a lack of it) on our willpower. 


Getting less than 6 hours of sleep per night negatively affects your willpower and self-discipline. Furthermore, excessive stress and poor stress management will also increase your impulsivity and reduce your ability to identify complex tasks. 


A good diet also contributes to increased willpower, so be sure to stock up on leafy greens and protein and add a few portions of fruit throughout the day.




If you take anything from this blog, let it be this: Willpower is a muscle that can be developed through daily exercise; using it once in a blue moon will not give your results.


Don’t fall into labelling yourself as ‘an impulsive person or ‘lacking willpower’; ist counterproductive and teaches your brain (mindset) the opposite of what you are trying to achieve. 


This goes for any negative connotation you tell yourself, FYI.


Recognise that self-control is an ability you can nurture only through daily practice. 


Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eat a balanced diet, associate yourself with positive people, and start by tackling small tasks before you move on to the more significant actions or activities. 


You’ll soon have enough willpower and internal motivation to do what other people aren’t willing to do, thus opening the door to opportunity.


James Fleming

The Power Within Training,

The Motivational Intelligence Company


To find out more, visit: https://www.thepowerwithintraining.com/mq



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#motivationintelligence, #mentoring #business #growth, #thepowerwithintraining, #traininganddevelopment, #energytransition, #construction, #leadershipdevelopment, #thecompletegame