The American Psychological Association defines willpower as the ability to resist short-term temptations to meet long-term goals. But we also associate it with delaying gratification or controlling our behavior. Some of us boast about how much strength of will we have, while others criticize themselves for lack of willpower. I think the ego uses our belief, whatever it is, about our ability to control our behaviors against us. This way, we stay stuck instead of moving towards our dreams.
We believe our ability to self-discipline is a crucial factor in how successful our lives can be. But is it just an excuse for us to live a miserable life? If we don’t think we have the discipline to do something, it explains why we don’t do it. And if we weren’t able to control our behaviors when we were younger, our ego reminds us we couldn’t do it in the past, so why do we think we can do it now?
This idea of willpower, self-control, discipline, restraint all comes down to a simple question, what outcome do we want, and how much do we want it? Do we want to get healthy and feel good, or do we want that piece of cheesecake we know will make us feel ill later? Do we want to write a book we know will help others, or do we want to veg in front of the television and do nothing?
Willpower is essential to the accomplishment of anything worthwhile. ~ Brian Tracy
Awareness of Our Options
Choices- we make them each day, and the ones we make today affect our tomorrow. But are we paying attention to the long-term effects our selection has? If we don’t, we allow the ego to use our past to indicate our future. Because the egoic mind continually points out those areas, it wants to avoid any potential loss, embarrassment, or risk.
When we become aware, we can adjust our behaviors so that we can accomplish our goals. Does this mean our ego won’t struggle with our choice? No, the egoic mind will resist us. As human beings, part of our design is the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Being conscious of our options and evaluating probable outcomes are proactive ways to diminish egoic fears.
We need to unlearn our negative beliefs about our inability to self-discipline, delay our gratification, and how much willpower we have. The reality is our ego doesn’t want to do much of anything. It wants the piece of cheesecake, and it wants to veg in front of the TV and do nothing. Putting out effort, thinking about others, and delaying pleasure are things it wants to avoid. The ego is lazy and selfish. Therefore, we need to pause and notice what we genuinely desire, not just now but long-term.
Where the willingness is great, the difficulties cannot be great. ~ Niccolo Machiavelli
Marshmallows and Overall Success
In 1972 at Stanford University, Walter Mischel led the famous marshmallow experiment in our ability to delay gratification. He gave a child a treat and told them they could have two of the sweets if they waited fifteen minutes. This research was long-term and showed that those children who choose to wait for the double-portion had better outcomes in their adult lives.
When we consciously opt to wait for something better, we demonstrate to the ego that we aren’t losing anything but gaining more in the long run. We all can make this type of choice. It doesn’t require willpower if we understand the long-term soulful goal versus the short-term egoic desire.
Our capacity is infinite. Our brains solve complex problems, imagine alternative options, and learn new things every day. But many of us habitually respond to life instead of utilizing our brainpower. Why? Because our ego doesn’t want to put out the effort of stretching ourselves and growing.
I think willpower is the amalgamation of our willingness to take action, use our full mental capabilities, and have the resilience to move forward with our dreams.
Men can do all things if they will. ~ Leon Battista Alberti
What Willpower Isn’t
Willpower isn’t about being something we aren’t. It’s not suppressing our egoic thoughts. Nor is it about shaming ourselves into behaving a certain way. It’s about accepting ourselves and inspiring ourselves to take the next step towards our goals.
When we allow the ego to shame us about our missteps, it causes us to quit. Instead, we need to look upon ourselves with compassionate eyes and look for the lesson this experience gave us to grow and expand our souls. When we alter our perception of our missteps and see the lesson, we boost our self-discipline for the next set of circumstances.
When we are suppressing ourselves by wearing masks and armor, we hide who we authentically are. We try to be what others want us to be instead of being our authentic selves. This hiding takes a lot of effort and depletes us of our willpower because we use it to hide. We are worthy the way we are. Now that we are aware of our options, we can learn to optimize our energies to become more authentic and make our dreams a reality.
Will is character in action. ~ William McDougall
As we increase our self-knowledge, we can learn what areas we have little self-discipline. Willpower is about the actions we take. So it’s essential to know how our ego reacts to situations we lack restraint.
When we’ve taken a misstep, how do we react? Do we evaluate the situation to determine a course correction? Or does our ego automatically want to quit by taking us down the treacherous path of blame, shame, and judgment?
From a biological standpoint, the negative self-talk triggers our bodies to feel better via dopamine, the pleasure neurotransmitter. To get our hit, we scroll through social media or eat a tub of ice cream.
To counter our inner critic’s montage of disapproving banter, we need to realize every action we take may not turn out as we expected. We forgive ourselves instead of wallowing in self-pity or spiraling down into a depressive state. Knowing that we will not hit the target every time, we can be compassionate and course-correct.
I am, indeed, a king because I know how to rule myself. ~ Pietro Aretino
Building Our Willpower Muscle
The egoic mind is the impulsive pleasure seeker that wants treats, fun, and amusement. The soul is the wise, authentic self that wants to take the right actions towards its long-term goals to live the life we dream. So when our brain is trying to keep the egoic pleasure seeker at bay, it uses up some of its resources and tires.
Like all muscles, to strengthen our resolve, we need to exercise, eat well, and rest. Willpower doesn’t increase by force. Proper rest, even five-minute breaks, allows the brain to reset and restore its ability to focus. The brain needs proper nutrition to maintain normal operating parameters. It needs more when we are using it for self-control and concentration.
Stress deteriorates our ability to use our rational brain. Instead, we react emotionally, thus causing our willpower muscles to weaken. In its place, we revert to our egoic habits as a substitute for conscious responses.
To calm ourselves, let’s breathe. Three repetitions of deep breathing to a count of five allow our autotomic nervous system to relax. Meditation also works our willpower muscle by teaching the brain to concentrate and avoid the urge to stray. Research shows that with only 10 minutes of meditation a day, our brain will focus better, we will have more energy and be less stressed.
Confront your fear and turn the mental blocks into building blocks. ~ Dr. Roopleen
Mindfulness of Our Habitual Behaviors
Being aware of the choices we make allows us to alter our unconscious reactions. Take a moment to think about each choice we make. This pause enables our brains to focus and resist temptation. Ask ourselves questions, why we were automatically taking a particular action. This questioning allows us to reprogram our robotic reactions to habitual tasks we may want to alter to become a better person or consciously move towards our goals.
Our bodies respond to our imagination. When we think about lying on a sunny, secluded beach, our muscles relax. So we can use this as a tool to help build our willpower muscle.
When we think about our future selves, our brain treats this self as another person. Our imagination sees them as better versions of our current selves. So when we are making a choice, we can use our future selves as a way for us not to delay our actions and make ourselves accountable to them. We can imagine our future selves enjoying the benefits of the choices we make today, the delayed gratification.
Willpower gets you started. Habits get you results. ~ Priit Kallas
Rewards and Temptations
The ego wants immediate gratification. Knowing this information can help us resist temptation. I love pasta, but the gluten causes inflammation issues in my body. But even though I know I’ll be ill, and if it’s in the house, I will eat it. I know my weakness. Therefore, it’s not in the house to prevent me from eating it. It’s one of many plans I have to deal with temptations I may encounter. Have a plan to deal with those chronic issues that tempt us, so we don’t succumb. Avoid places we know may cause us to misstep.
Don’t permit ourselves to be “bad” because we’ve been so “good.” This phrase means we don’t reward ourselves for doing what we consciously choose for our future selves. Since I worked out this morning, I can have the tub of ice cream tonight. This self-sabotaging behavior only makes us feel guilty and ashamed, especially since the ego points at this misstep as a reminder of our lack of willpower.
When we have big audacious goals, break them down into achievable steps and reward ourselves for the movement forward, not “being good.” This system stimulates self-discipline and still gives the egoic mind the incentive to keep working towards the goal.
I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it. ~ Mae West
Moving Forward: One Step at a Time
Feeling overwhelmed by a goal or task is more often the reason people lack willpower. So, break down the goal into manageable pieces. This strategy guarantees success as well as keeps us from being depleted of our willpower. As we accomplish a step, we will have satisfaction and pride in completing this overall process phase. We will also build our self-confidence to make it easier to confront the next stage.
To assert your willpower is simply to make up your mind that you want something and then refuse to be put off. ~ Phillip Cooper
Do you need support to help you understand willpower and how to build yours? Do you want a strategy to help you overcome the ego’s limiting beliefs and live a successful life? If so, please reach out to me at TerriKozlowski.com, and we can put together an action plan for you to create the life you desire.
Don’t forget to check out my book, Raven Transcending Fear, which is now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle! The link is in the show notes, or you can go to www.RavenTranscendingFear.com!