The Ultimate Guide to Willpower

You must have heard about the importance of willpower – and how having a strong will is one of the key straits of personal strength and success. So it’s fairly common knowledge that willpower is important.

But how much do you really know about it?

That’s where this ultimate guide to willpower comes in.

Read on to learn more about willpower, including what it is, how it is like a muscle, why it is important, and how to optimize and replenish your willpower.

So What is Willpower

According to the dictionary, willpower is “the ability to control your thoughts and behavior in order to achieve something”.

The Willpower Muscle

Willpower is a lot like a muscle – the more you use it, the stronger it gets. 

But it also has its limits and does get exhausted when used a lot, like a muscle.

And it needs time to recover and replenish.

Willpower is the ability to control your thoughts and behavior in order to achieve something.

What Happens When our Willpower is Depleted

When our willpower is at a low, we start to make automated decisions, decisions that require the least amount of thinking, even if that might be faulty

The Importance of Willpower

Without your willpower, you will find it challenging to do anything that requires a conscious effort. And forget about challenging things – if you have no willpower, you won’t be able to undertake anything challenging (unless, of course, you have created a habit out of it).

Willpower helps us do meaningful things, things that are important, things that help us make an impact and improve ourselves. Things that challenge us.

Without willpower, personal development and growth will be practically impossible.

Related article: What is Personal Development? – An Intro Guide to Personal Development (+ FAQs)

Without your willpower, you will find it challenging to do anything that requires a conscious effort.

The Internal Battle – Why is Willpower so Hard

Giving in to your cravings makes you feel good, but only in the short term. It won’t take long for you to experience guilt and remorse, however, because you broke your own contract, and violated your own boundaries. You said you won’t do something, but you did that, and now you feel guilty.

This is why giving in is so damn challenging, and why it causes more harm than good.

But there is a way to make things easier for yourself, a way for you to reduce – if not eliminate – the challenges that come from your potential lapses. And that is where knowing more about your willpower, and learning how to optimize it, comes in.

Giving in to your cravings makes you feel good, but only in the short term.

The Essential Thing You Need To Understand About Willpower

There is a finite amount of willpower, and the more you use your willpower, the less there will be left for you to use on other things.

Think of it like a bottle of smoothie: if you take big gulps of it, the bottle will be empty in no time. The smaller the sips, or the longer the interval between each sip, the longer the smoothie will last you.

It’s like that with willpower too.

You can use up the lion’s share of your willpower on something big and then have little to none left to really use on anything else until it is replenished that is. So it would make sense for you to be diligent about how and where you exercise your willpower.

Related article: The 5 Enemies of Personal Growth – Invisible Stumbling Blocks That Can Get In The Way of Your Growth

Mood and Energy Level

Willpower becomes a real challenge when you are tired and/or low.

Have you noticed how you give in to your cravings for junk food when you are really hungry?

Or sad?

There’s a reason why a tub of ice cream is the classic sadness food item.

This is also why people make more automated decisions, often against their better judgment, towards the latter part of the day. There was actually a Stamford study which firmly established this fact when they noticed that jurors were more likely to say no to defendants towards the end of the day than they were during the early part of the day.

Related article: How To Deal With Negative Thoughts – The Definitive Guide

Willpower becomes a real challenge when you are tired, hungry and low.

What Depletes Your Willpower

Here are 5 things that deplete your willpower:

  1. Hunger
  2. Tiredness
  3. Stress
  4. Anxiety
  5. Sadness

Research on Willpower

In case you were curious about willpower and researches on the topic, check out these five articles and publications: 

Peak Times for Willpower 

There are three times during the day when our willpower is at its peak:

  • the early part of the morning,
  • afternoon, and
  • evening.

Mornings and Willpower

Your willpower is usually at its peak in the morning, and then it dips. The same thing happens in the afternoon, after getting food and/or rest, then it dips. Then again in the evening, the same thing happens.

Morning is nearly always the best of the three peak times. So if there are things that you find challenging, do them in the morning. Same goes for the most impactful tasks of the day. You will find them easier to do in the morning before you get bogged down with everything else.

In the morning your mind is fresh, your reserves are full, so make the best of that time by utilizing that for the most impactful stuff.

Your willpower is usually at its peak in the morning, and then it dips.

How to Optimize and Hack Your Willpower

Here are eight tips and hacks to optimize your willpower:

  1. Do the most important stuff in the morning: As mentioned, mornings are usually great for doing things that require willpower, as your reserve is full after the sleep you’ve had. Assign things that will need you to exercise a lot of willpower early on in the day, and things that are less willpower intensive later on in the day. Basically, use the peak times for the most willpower-intensive activities.
  2. Protein keeps you fuller longer, and also keeps your glucose level balanced, so that’s a good food group to include in your breakfast to supercharge your willpower reserve during the day.
  3. Power naps are another one of my favorite hacks. This is a great bio hack that enables you to break your day and refill your reserve during the time when you usually would start to get depleted during midday.
  4. If you need a fast recharge, have a banana. Other fruits will do too, but bananas are especially good because of their high potassium content which really helps to boost your energy levels. The fructose in the fruit will give you a glucose boost which will, in turn, boost your mental energy and willpower. Don’t overdo this though, as the more glucose you put in your system, the harder you will crash later. Heard of a sugar crash? That’s what will happen. Too much of anything and all that.
  5. Meditation is another hack for optimizing your reserve. 
  6. A walk in nature can help to calm your mind and ground you and help you replenish your willpower.
  7. Another hack is to create automated recurring tasks (ARTs). Think of routines and rituals and habits you have. We all have those, be it brushing your teeth first thing in the morning or getting a coffee before you start work, there are lots of things we all do every day without really thinking. Those are automated tasks that we do repeatedly, on a recurring basis. Creating such ART’s around things that are important to you will make it really easy for you to get on with those activities without really having to exercise your willpower. Check out my post about creating ARTs if you are interested to learn how to create these automated recurring tasks, and do so effectively.
  8. Have a plan for your day, especially for your evening, as your willpower reserves will be at their lowest at that time. So have a plan for things like healthy eating, reading etc. Don’t try and do intensive stuff during the evening, as it might not work out very well (unless, of course, you are a night owl and do better during the night than during the day). If you are trying to be healthy, for instance, have meals made beforehand rather than trying to figure out what to eat after a tiring day. This way you can negate the possibility of you eating unhealthy as you already know what you are going to eat and have it there ready for you to eat.

Related article: Top 5 Ways To Improve Your Productivity

Use the peak times for the most willpower-intensive activities.

How to Make Things Easy For Your Off-Peak Times

Off-peak times are a normal part of anyone’s day. But they don’t need to be a struggle, especially if you want to spend the time a certain way but always struggle to.

Here are two ways to make things easy for your off-peak times:

  • Have a plan for the off-peak times. That way you don’t need to think too much about how to make the most of the times when you are tired.
  • Create habits of the things you want to do during your off-peak times.

How to Fill/Refill Your Willpower Reserve

Here are the 3 best ways to fill/refill your willpower:

  1. Sleep: The best way to fill or refill your willpower reserve is rest. That is why you will notice that you find it easier to do challenging things in the morning. 
  2. Food: Hunger and willpower are terrible together. When you are hungry, it becomes a lot harder to exercise your willpower. So a quick bite can be just what you need to give yourself a boost. Hunger depletes your willpower. So, do willpower intensive tasks and activities after you have eaten.
  3. Meditation: Meditation helps induce a restful state, which is basically a hack for achieving what rest does.

Do you have any tips on willpower?

Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments.

Related TEDTalk: The Science of Willpower

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