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What Is Willpower and How Do I Change It?

Updated on June 21, 2019


Do you ever struggle to do things which are imperative for you to achieve your goals? Well if you then you aren’t alone. A good chunk of people believe that lacking willpower is the biggest impedance in their struggle to change, improve and achieve more. Willpower can somewhat be defined as the ability to deny oneself of short term temptations in order to meet long term goals. For example if you stayed under your normal daily caloric intake for a whole week because you were trying to cut fat you would be demonstrating willpower. In denying yourself of the short term satisfaction you are working towards a long term goal you strive for.

Roy Baumeister, PHD, who now teaches psychology in Australia states that there are 3 steps which are crucial for change.

1)Establish motivation and set a clear goal.

- In order to establish motivation I feel there is a need to do a somewhat thorough soul search. Figure out goals which align with your beliefs and values, to be sure you aren’t going after something which will not make you happy.

-You want to write each goal down and thus make it very tangible. You might even want to make sure it conforms to the SMART standards. SMART is an acronym commonly used in project management and goal setting. Make sure your goal is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

2)You need to keep an eye on your progress, preferably on paper.

- In the measurable part of your smart goals you can break it down to the steps needed to achieve. Keep a record of where you are at in each step in order to keep motivation.

3)Demonstrate willpower!

-This is where many people find issues in achieving their goals. You need to find it you to do the steps necessary to achieve instead of staying on the couch and watching TV. Use your time wisely!

ur dreams and we have the resources to change.

Studies on willpower

If you are a parent then surely you have heard of the marshmallow test. A study first done by Walter Mischel of Stanford showed just how important willpower is. The study concludes that the kids with the willpower to deny themselves immediate satisfaction in order for a greater future reward were overall more successful in life. They were better at relationships, made more money and even healthier than their counterparts in the study. Willpower plays a huge role in our lives whether we know it or not.

Another study was done by Terrie Moffit, PHD of DukeUniversity followed 1000 children from birth to age 32. the study concluded that children with better self control grow into adults with greater physical and mental health, fewer substance use problems and better at dealing with finances.

So how do we overcome impulse and delay gratification? Well we now know that through neuroplasticity we can always change our brain behavior and tendencies through repeated actions. A study done by Roy Baumeister seems to show that willpower can be depleted from repeated situations in which willpower is needed. This is called willpower depletion or ego depletion. Ego depletion is not fatigue but seems to be decreased activity in the anterior cingulated cortex, a brain region involved in cognition. It is also linked to a drop in glucose.

In 2010 Veronika Job, Carol Dweck and Gregory Walton published a paper after a study saying ”We propose that depletion takes place or not depends on a person’s belief on whether willpower is a limited resource” After 4 studies they found that reduced self control after demanding periods reflect a persons beliefs about the availability of willpower.

So we now have the info we need to know willpower and our beliefs about it are extremely important, how do we strengthen it?

Strengthening Your Self-Control

Tips for Strengthening Your Self Control

  • Just keep the obstacle or problem away from you. Separate yourself from temptation.
  • Implementation Intentions: a strategy which involves planning beforehand how you will react when faced with your vice or obstacle. Eg. Know what your respose will be if someone offers you alcohol if your trying to drink less.
  • High motivation can overcome willpower depletion. If you want it bad enough you can do it!
  • You can close your eyes when you see your temptation.
  • You can imagine the object has been damaged. Eg. Imagine that if you go get a greasy burger the patty was dropped on the floor or spat on, It will make you want it less.
  • 8 hours of sleep, proper nutrition and excersize all contribute to good health and self control.


There may be conflicting theories about ego depletion but I feel that neuroscience has shown us anything is possible. We can change our behaviors along with our beliefs. We also have many resources of help and self-help. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the leading and most successful way to make lasting change so if you have significant problems with self control, start there, with a therspist. One thing we do know is self control and motivation are possibly the 2 greatest factors in living a successful life and achieveing yo

I love this book for improving your beliefs and actions.


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