Why is willpower so important?
What is the big deal?
So, what really is willpower and why is it important? Simply put, willpower is exactly that, ‘the power to enforce our will’. It is the ability to choose to do something that is important and/ or good for you, over something that is, instead, pleasurable. Willpower’s definition has been perfectly put by Your Dictionary: https://www.yourdictionary.com/willpower
- Strength of will, mind, or determination; self-control.
- Willpower is defined as discipline and self-restraint.
An example of willpower is someone being able to quit smoking. Or choosing the healthy food option over the unhealthy one.
- The strength of will to carry out one’s decisions, wishes, or plans.
- The unwavering strength of will to carry out one’s wishes.
I don’t know about you, but the word ‘willpower’ conjures up emotions of ‘power’ and rightly so, it has the word power in it as its driving force. And furthermore, when we allow willpower to have a prominent place in our lives, it gives us the sense that we have the power over our life. Therefore, that we are making the right choices.
Willpower and Self-control go hand-in-hand.
It is believed that those who have more willpower are happier; they tend to have better relationships and are more successful in life. They are also able to manage their stress better. So, the key is, how to increase your willpower? Like many things in life, willpower is a mind-body reaction. What happens in the mind/brain gets outworked through the body. We all have willpower, and we all use it to some extent. But most of us would be closer to achieving all our goals if we focused on improving our willpower.
There has been much research over willpower in recent years. One such research experiment, “The marshmallow test” (any sweets will do), whereby a child must sit with a marshmallow in front of them for a period. If they are able to complete the time limit without eating the 1 marshmallow, then they are rewarded with 2 or more. This initial experiment, conducted by Stanford University in 1972 and led by psychologist Walter Mischel, found that (in later years) those specific children who were able to delay their gratification for a greater reward were in fact more successful.
More recently, this has been a fun social media experiment that has gone viral. Families all over the world have conducted the same regimented routine on their darlings, with a hidden camera to reveal all, wondering what the outcome might be. Some had the self-control of a Sergeant Major, others couldn’t even wait until their parents turned their backs and still others turned into downright sugar cat burglars with elaborate schemes to get the goods they wanted before their allotted time. The whole exercise was fascinating and hysterical all-in-one.
The abundance of willpower
Like with everything in life, there are different beliefs and opposing opinions on willpower. Interestingly though, research shows us that those who believe there is no limit to their willpower can accomplish tasks easier and without incentives. https://news.stanford.edu/news/2013/august/willpower-study-sugar-082713.html
Researchers have found that willpower is like a muscle, it can be depleted and used up throughout the day, but the more you work it and use it, the stronger and more abundant it will grow. Therefore, those who can exercise their willpower earlier and are consistent will have more steadfast and stronger willpower in the long run. They may come across as more focused, diligent and self-controlled, all because they exercised their willpower.
The reality of your willpower
We cannot fully understand willpower without understanding our brain and wherein our brain willpower is developed. As we know, our brain is an ever-changing, complex organ. Scientists and researchers continue to discover how incredible our brain is.
This extract is taken from PositivePsychology.com
The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the part of our brains, right behind our forehead and eyes, that’s responsible for abstract thinking, analyzing thoughts and regulating behavior.
When you meditate or ponder conflicting thoughts, predict outcomes of our choices, and decide “right verse wrong,” you are relying on your PFC. In the figure to the right, it is highlighted in red.
The PFC controls what we pay attention to, how we express our personality, what we think about and how we feel. In other words, it controls a lot of “who we are.”
Studies show that this part of the brain is the last to mature; its development is not complete until around age 25. Which is likely why otherwise intelligent and sensible teens still engage in high-risk or excessive behaviors, even though they understand the potential consequences.
Robert Sapolsky, a neurobiologist at Stanford, believes that the main job of our PFC is to encourage the brain towards doing the harder thing. Ordering the salad instead of the steak, going to the gym when your friends are at the pub, getting started on that project you have been dreaming about even though it’s easier to procrastinate, etc.
The “I will, I won’t and I want powers” that comprise willpower draw on different parts of the PFC. All of this being said, it is our PFC in our brain that needs to be nurtured to help increase our willpower and self-control. In essence, our good decision making.
How to increase your willpower by looking after your Prefrontal Cortex
- Eat a Diet Healthy for Your Brain. 
Healthy oils, nuts & seeds, eggs, blueberries, turmeric, broccoli, dark chocolates, good quality water and leafy greens are some of the most important foods you can eat for brain health.
- Exercise 
- Good Quality Sleep
- Social Interaction with People 
- Stress Management 
- Find the Fun
- Be Community-minded
- Celebrate Small Victories 
- Accountability 
If you need to walk alongside someone to keep you accountable, reach out. Ask a friend, family or paid professional to help you build up your willpower.
- Work at Saying ‘No’ to any Negative Self-Talk you Might Have. 
Looking after your prefrontal Cortex in your brain and making the decision to build your willpower will ultimately give you the strength to have the willpower you need in life. If you use it, you will grow it, if you ignore it- you will lose it.