I am fortunate to meet people as they are setting out to achieve new goals. They enter my life eager, ambitious, optimistic, and hungry for change. In both my coaching practice and my personal training career, I talk to a lot of people about goals. And in those conversations about goals, change, and personal improvement, comes a lot of talk about willpower.
Willpower, self-control, discipline… they all seem to branch off a belief that elusive traits that you either have or do not. I hear all too often, “See, my problem is, I just don’t have willpower.”
But the truth is, we all have willpower, it’s just a matter of whether or not we are in the habit of using it.
Willpower is like a muscle. We all have muscles, but let’s be honest, we don’t all know how to use them or put in the time to strengthen and exercise them. Much like the skeletal muscle of our bodies, our willpower fatigues with heavy use. This is why after a trying, rigid, or strenuous day, say at work or sticking to a strict diet, we are more likely to “give in” to temptations and the easy, feel-good choices. When you spend much of your day practicing self-control, going the extra mile, and saying ‘no’ to things you’d rather say ‘yes’ to, your ability to keep doing so, aka your willpower muscle, gets tired, and it’s only natural to want to give it a rest at the end of a long day.
The good news is that, also like a muscle, willpower becomes stronger with consistent use, practice, and training. Which means the more you exercise your willpower, consistently and little by little, the stronger, more efficient, and easier it becomes to use. It also means that old line, “I just don’t have willpower” is null and void.
You have it, you just need to start using it.
Here are my tips for Training Your Willpower…
Practice with small challenges. Use small opportunities to practice using your willpower as they present themselves throughout the day. Maybe it’s a matter of not skimping on that one extra chore today, or walking just 5 extra minutes, or reading just a few more pages of your book before you start watching Netflix in the evening… choose opportunities that are small enough to practice self-control without fatiguing your willpower muscle. An undoubtable bonus: all those little success will build momentum towards bigger successes, give you a steady sense of accomplishment, and prove to yourself that you are capable.
Uphold your commitments. Do what you say you would do. For yourself and for others. Be the kind of person that honors their commitments and is true to their word. This sort of mindset will seep into every aspect of your life, and give your willpower the extra fuel it needs to keep getting stronger.
Forgive yourself for fatiguing. You’re human, sometimes you’re going to give in. Forgive yourself, move on, don’t give up, and focus on doing better next time. There will be plenty of next times.
Stay focused on your goals. I have a goal of finishing at least one book every month this year, and achieving that goal has meant giving up some Netflix habits. On the days when it sounds way better to turn off my brain, and tune in to Friends re-runs, I have to remember that in the long run, achieving my goal is far more important to me. When giving in means compromising your goals, long-term or short-term, remember what you’re working towards.
“Do or do not, there is no try.” – Yoda
Subscribe to my email list and get this week’s self-coaching exercises for strengthening your willpower – hitting inboxes this Wednesday!
All my best,
*For further reading on willpower, check out The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business – one of my favorite reads of this month!