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what is willpower?

How To Increase Willpower: A Simple (But Complete) Guide

Do you want to learn how to increase willpower? Do you struggle with impulsive behavior and an inability to complete even the most basic tasks? You might be suffering from a lack of willpower.

Willpower is one of those things that exists in our subconscious but still holds extraordinary control over our lives. Those who have it are able to set and keep strict social and personal boundaries. Their lives tend to be orderly and sane.

Those who lack willpower, on the other hand, tend to struggle with a wide range of problems. If you are reading this post, chances are you fall into the latter category. Don’t worry – you’re in good company.

Take something like dieting. Say we decides to make a positive change. We are going to do it. We had been inspired by a nutritionist or a friend to experience the joys of good nutrition. We had every intention to start counting calories and we really did plan to stick to it.

what is willpower?

But then something… happened. We didn’t do what we set out to do. Those fresh-baked cookies sucked us back in. We put off the diet until tomorrow. Then tomorrow became next week and before we knew it our pants were feeling tighter.

Does that sound like you?

Be honest. We’ve all been there before.

What is Willpower?

 

Willpower is the control we exert to achieve goals or to restrain ourselves from acting on our impulses. For some it comes easily. For others it is a fairy tale, as elusive as fairies and four leaf clovers.

Willpower is that thing we lack when we can’t say no to that third donut. It’s the thing we have when we summon the courage to end a toxic relationship. “Will” is a person’s ability to make a conscious choice. “Power” refers to our ability to stick to it.

Willpower, then, is the motivation we have to exercise our will. We can apply this to lots of things. For example:

  • Losing weight
  • Making new friends
  • Find your focus
  • Quitting an addiction!
  • Changing bad habits
  • Quitting smoking!
  • Avoiding fattening or unhealthy foods
  • Focusing on work instead of play
  • Following the speed limit
  • Leaving work at work
  • Setting and achieving goals
  • Not messing around with your phone at the dinner table.

You get the idea. It’s easy to do things we want to do. We don’t need any help to have that extra slice of chocolate cake or that last cigarette before we go to bed.

Doing what we want is easy. But doing what we need to do can be hard, at least in the beginning, but that’s how to increase willpower.

It takes about 90 days to make or break a habit. That’s three months. That’s a long time if you think about it.

What is it that helps us achieve our goals, especially ones we need to accomplish but might not want to do. The answer, of course, is willpower.

So how do we go about getting it? Once we have established a new habit, it’s easy to maintain. Habits are automatic; that’s why they are so powerful.

But getting to that point is hard. So because we are in the habit of pushing that snooze button instead of jogging ,  we need to develop some self-discipline. Self-discipline is our ability to control our feelings and overcome our weaknesses.

It’s also the the ability to pursue what we thinks is right despite any temptations we may have to abandon it. It’s not the same thing as willpower, but you can’t have one without the other.


Why then is it so hard for us to develop new habits? Especially positive ones like eating a healthy diet or quitting smoking? The answer, unfortunately, is that our brain makes things harder than they should be.

What is The Midbrain?

 

The human brain is a marvel of evolution. It’s what allows us to communicate, make complex decisions, and follow recipes for beef stew. But there is an ancient part of the brain that still has a say in how we do things, and it is in that part of the brain where good habits often fizzle and die.

It’s called the “midbrain” and it controls most of the basic functions that keep us from dying. Things like breathing and sleeping and motor control and sexual impulses.  It’s the caveman part of our brain, if you will. It is ancient. The midbrain is also where you’ll find something called the “pleasure circuit.” It’s the part of the brain that rewards you for doing things that you need to do to survive. If you want to learn how to increase willpower, you need to get familiar with The Midbrain.

 

The Midbrain and Willpower
Courtesy, Northern Brain Injury Association

Think about two different foods for a moment: broccoli and chocolate cake. Which one of those tastes better? It’s the cake right? That’s because chocolate cake is full of calories, fat, and sugar that the body needs to survive.

Broccoli, while healthy, is not calorie rich, which is why it doesn’t taste as good. When the pleasure circuit gets something it likes it releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine. It produces a feeling of mild euphoria.

If you don’t know what that is, it’s the boost you get when you win a lottery ticket or flirt with an attractive coworker. That’s dopamine. And the problem is, dopamine is often released for both healthy and unhealthy actions we take. If you run a mile, you will feel the effects of dopamine.

If you smoke a cigarette, you will feel it as well. If the midbrain likes it, you can expect a healthy dose of dopamine every time you do that action. If you want to learn how to increase willpower, it’s crucial that you learn about dopamine, because dopamine can be both your enemy and your friend.

Think about cigarettes. When you first try to quit, your brain throws a tantrum because it no longer gets that spike in dopamine.

Why is that? Because that’s when the brain is still hungry for that sweet, sweet dopamine.

Remember, this is coming from a part of the brain that controls basic human survival needs. So it’s not willing to let go without a fight.

How to Increase Willpower

 

If we want to learn how to increase willpower in order to break a bad habit, we must first replace the negative behavior with a positive one. But how? Here are some quick suggestions:

  • Write down a list of goals. Make sure they are SMART Goals, too, meaning they are:
  1. Specific;
  2. Measurable;
  3. Attainable;
  4. Realistic; and
  5. Time-specific.
  • Reward yourself whenever you make progress. This helps with motivation.
  • Be accountable to somebody. This helps you keep you keep your eye on the ball.
  • Partner up with a like-minded friend. There are safety in numbers.
  • Engage in specific activities that help to reverse any of the negative consequences of the behavior you are trying to extinguish.

how to increase willpower

Exercise is a great example, especially if you’re trying to quit smoking cigarettes. Smokers do significant damage to their bodies with all those toxins, so exercise is a great way to help the body heal itself. It’s also a great replacement activity. After awhile, the brain will start to crave exercise in the same way it craved a cigarette. Not only does it help you quit, it reserves a lot of the damage.

The bottom line here is that willpower is not just a matter of mind over manner. If you want to learn how to increase willpower, you have to understand that willpower is a mixture of the psychological and the physiological. In other words, it’s all about your mind AND your body working together to achieve a common goal.

It takes effort, planning, and support, but it is certainly something anyone can achieve. As the saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

If you are interested in overcoming self-limiting behaviors like laziness and procrastination, you might enjoy watching this video. And if you’d like a FREE GIFT about MANIFESTING MONEY and SUCCESS, go here. It’s free!

Randy Withers, Managing Editor of Blunt Therapy, A Blog about Mental Health
Randy Withers, LPC
Managing Editor, Blunt Therapy

“It’s hard to make self-care a priority if you’re always on the go. That’s why I recommend BetterHelp. It’s affordable, confidential, and effective online counseling.”        

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2 thoughts on “How To Increase Willpower: A Simple (But Complete) Guide”

  1. Very good article, Randy. Educated me on the Midbrain. Thanks. Never thought about the ‘replacement.’

    Reply

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