Request a demo
Back to Blog

Be your own hero: 6 tips to increase willpower

August 1, 2022 - 21 min read

instructor-doing-relaxation-exercises-how-to-increase-will-power

Jump to section

What is willpower?

Why is willpower important?

6 benefits of willpower

Where does willpower come from?

What does willpower look like?

How to increase your willpower

What obstacles can stop you from learning how to increase your willpower?

Looking into the future: How can increasing your willpower help you achieve your goals?

"I have zero self-control over binge-watching TV," you say as you start another episode. 

While comments like this are seemingly harmless, they might indicate that you’re struggling with your willpower. The best way to overcome your bad habits? Learn how to increase willpower. More willpower can help you build new habits and reach all the goals you’ve been putting off. 

On average, forming a habit takes 66 days. That’s a long time to persevere and form a behavior. Without willpower, it can be a struggle to maintain your habits until they become automatic. It requires intentional action and continued effort. 

That said, good habits, and ultimately, willpower can have a huge positive impact on your work and personal life. Imagine this: you finally complete the big work presentation you’ve been putting off, without taking constant social media breaks.

Or, you kick your sugar tooth once and for all, and hit your fitness goals because you can say now say no to the office candy jar. 

These examples can sound daunting if you feel powerless over your bad habits right now.  But don’t worry! That's why we're here to show you how to increase your willpower.

 

What is willpower?

Willpower refers to our self-control and ability to resist acting on impulses. It's related to our self-discipline and how we manage our actions. Basically, willpower is all about how we can resist short-term temptations to achieve our long-term goals.

Our willpower comes in when we have feelings or thoughts that we want to ignore. For example, when you resist the urge to extend your lunch break instead of going back to work, that’s willpower. 

But we want to clarify one thing: Your ability to use willpower doesn't become stronger as you keep using it. You can quickly weaken it, so you need to create areas in your life that don’t require as much willpower. 

You can learn to balance your willpower with your desires over time. But it’s not a skill that’s easy to master. Desires are inevitable, and we need to know how to exercise enough self-control to avoid temptation.

New call-to-action

Why is willpower important?

Willpower is important because it’s what fuels us to create change in our lives. It forces us to find the power within ourselves to make things happen and depend less on other people. That’s why learning how to increase your willpower can have such a positive impact on your life. 

Our willpower also teaches us to be more self-aware and act aligned with our values. Our willpower prompts us to look within ourselves and see our strengths and weaknesses.

If we're more aware of ourselves, we can identify when we need to dig deeper for motivation when we’re trying to achieve a goal. It’s in those moments of willpower that we discover the most about ourselves and what we’re capable of. 

Both self-awareness and willpower require us to sharpen skills that nobody else can hand to us. We have to do the work ourselves to see success. But the benefits make the work worth it: being aware of our actions helps us become better leaders, friends, employees, and partners. 

In addition, willpower helps make our actions more purposeful. If you have to exert the effort required to resist short-term desires as you seek to achieve your life purpose, you’ll be that much more driven to succeed. That’s why it takes plenty of Inner Work® and consistency to learn how to increase your willpower. 

Thought leaders have many different ideas about willpower. For example, author and public speaker James Clear argues that most people want a rapid transformation. If they don't achieve their goals immediately, they think they have poor willpower.

In reality, people need to make better plans. Clear says that people don't know when, where, and how to implement their habits if they lack clarity.

man-at-home-drinking-water-1

On the other hand, human behavioral scholar BJ Fogg claims that to do something difficult, you need high levels of motivation and positive self-talk. To stay motivated, you should be rewarding yourself and celebrating your victories. Failing to acknowledge your hard work only hinders your progress.

It’s important to focus on the qualities that comprise your willpower, including motivation, attention to detail, and self-discipline. If you need extra support with these, BetterUp can help provide the skills and accountability you need to learn how to increase your willpower.

6 benefits of willpower

Willpower can have a positive impact on both your professional and personal life. In fact, having more of it will benefit you wherever you venture in life. 

That’s because the benefits of willpower go beyond the ability to help you achieve your goals. 

Learning how to increase your willpower can: 

  1. Improve your concentration and focus skills
  2. Teach you how to manage your stress levels
  3. Improve your self-management abilities
  4. Boosting your self-esteem and confidence
  5. Strengthening your conflict resolutions skills
  6. Helping you sustain healthy, happy relationships

Where does willpower come from?

Knowing the benefits of willpower is important, but let’s dive into the science. It's time to discover neuroanatomy and how willpower is built in the brain.

Studies show that our brains develop from the back to the front. That means development is slower in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the part of our brain right behind our foreheads. We count on our PFC for impulse control, reasoning, decision-making, and more. 

The PFC helps us rationalize things like doing physical activity even though we don't feel like it. It's responsible for analyzing, thinking, and regulating our behavior

Our willpower is built along with our PFC. But the PFC is one of the last things to develop in our brains. When we’re children, our PFC hasn’t developed yet.

We don’t have much control over our impulses, like how many cookies to eat.

We don’t recognize that we’ll feel sick if we eat too many. We just want to eat the cookie. 

Your PFC is crucial for self-control. You can’t regulate your emotions and rationalize very well when your PFC isn’t developed.

But as we grow from children to young adults to fully developed adults, our willpower helps us understand ourselves. We learn that two cookies are enough to satisfy our cravings without making us feel sick. 

From that growth, your willpower can decipher challenges and how to overcome them. Throughout all the stages of your life, your PFC is crucial for using and increasing your willpower.

What does willpower look like?

Willpower requires direction, focus, and self-discipline. Without a sense of control, how can we know where our actions will take us, or what actions to take? Perhaps you need to be reminded of what you’re working toward because you keep getting distracted.

Your focus helps you move towards your goals, and your self-discipline will help hold you accountable.

Our goals remind us what our willpower is working for. You could be saving money to buy a new car, for example. Willpower will drive you to be disciplined and avoid frivolous spending. 

Willpower is choosing to eat yogurt instead of chocolate because you’re trying to focus on your nutrition. It means going to the gym at the end of a long workday, even if you’re tired. It means cutting toxic people out of your life and not running to them when you feel lonely.

Refusing to give in to temptation and focusing on your discipline is what willpower is all about.

How to increase your willpower

There’s no singular best way to increase willpower. Perhaps you feel like you have some aspects of willpower down but you're still working on others. The good news is we have plenty of tips and techniques to inspire you to take action.

Here are six tips to help you learn how to increase your willpower:

1. Improve your time management skills

Time management is key when it comes to controlling and planning your actions. You can support and boost your willpower by understanding what exactly you need to accomplish and when you need to do it.

With a set schedule and a detailed outline of things to complete, you’ll understand how you can best manage your time. Plus, you’ll know according to your schedule how and when you may need to use willpower. 

woman-holding-an-agenda-at-the-office-1

This will make it harder for you to waste your own time. When you don’t know what your next move should be, you won’t have anything to exert willpower over. To get started, you can rely on your virtual or physical calendars. Or, you can try time management strategies like the Pomodoro Technique.

2. Feed your brain the right fuel

Our energy levels play a huge role in our attitudes and behavior. Treating yourself is great, but letting your cravings win every time you open your fridge doesn't help. We won’t have much willpower, or energy at all, for that matter, if we don’t fuel ourselves with the right food

We need the energy to complete our tasks and get through the day. Without it, how can we expect to get even the simplest of jobs done? This is a great place to start learning how to increase your willpower. Studies show that eating junk food actually makes you crave more junk food.

Ultimately, resisting the temptation to eat highly-processed foods will demonstrate your willpower. Plus, it will make you crave it less over time!

3. Get enough sleep

All the action you’re taking is eventually going to tire you out. That's why getting enough sleep is important to keep increasing your willpower. We can't say “no” over and over again if we’re struggling to keep our eyes open.

Willpower isn’t something we exert once and then never again. Next time you think about pulling an all-nighter, think about how that will impact your body and how you act the next day. When you’re tired, rest. Your willpower will thank you later.

sleeping-female-in-sleep-mask-1

4. Be disciplined with your routines

Whether it's your morning, mid-day, or night routine, do your best to stick with it. Your willpower can thrive off of a set routine. Why? Because when you have a regular schedule, you have less of a need for willpower.

For example, say you make eating the same healthy breakfast each morning a habit. You’ll find you don’t even need the willpower to resist the donuts your coworkers keep offering. 

As a result, you’ll save your willpower for the times when you really need it. You may even learn how to increase your willpower by creating more healthy habits.

Even if it's remembering to wash your face before bed each night, small habits can show you that you can take on bigger, more life-changing challenges.

5. Reward yourself for your accomplishments

Sometimes, you can start moving so fast that you forget to take a moment to appreciate your efforts. Taking the time to celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how big or small can motivate you to keep going in the future. 

You’ll be more inclined to continue your efforts because you’ll already feel and see the rewards. You’ll know firsthand how your willpower can benefit you. That will encourage you to boost it even more and keep working towards future goals.

6. Go on a journey of self-discovery

Perhaps you think you know yourself, but you really don't. Willpower demands self-awareness, and if that's what you're lacking, then it's time to get to know yourself better. Going on a self-discovery journey will teach you more about yourself and your weaknesses. 

In that process, you can learn how to increase your willpower. You can discover what problem-solving methods work best for you, or what types of motivation get you going.

The most important thing is to take the time to understand your values and long-term goals. All this will give you a sense of purpose behind your willpower. Get started today by trying out mindful practices like meditation and journaling.

Woman-doing-yoga-1

What obstacles can stop you from learning how to increase your willpower?

As you learn how to gain more willpower, you need to know what could stand in your way. Obstacles and challenges are part of life, and they'll be there to test your willpower often.

Let's review six obstacles that can derail your willpower:

  1. You get overwhelmed with self-criticism. As you work toward your accomplishments, your inner critic may become relentless. Eventually, it can prevent you from sustaining your efforts, leading you to give up.
  2. You self-sabotage. Things could be going great, but someone comes along and wipes away your plans and progress. The world can be messy and make you think you can't accomplish your goals, but that's not the case when you're motivated and have support.
  3. You lack energy. It's one thing to have goals and want to achieve them, but it's a problem when you don't have the energy to do so. Think about your work-life balance and if you can improve it to gain more energy and increase your willpower. 
  4. You have unrealistic goals. Goals take work, but nobody said they have to be unrealistic. If your goals are unachievable right now, it doesn't mean you'll never achieve them. It just means you might have to go back and think about your action plan. Make sure they fall under the SMART goal framework.
  5. You're surrounded by temptations. The cues in your environment could be too tempting. Something as simple as hearing your phone can tempt you into distractions and break your focus. Try removing temptations from your environment — you’ll be surprised by how much this action can boost your resolve.
  6. You lack motivation. You can set goals, but are you motivated to achieve them? Are you ready to achieve them? Your lack of motivation could be telling you that you don't have a straightforward course of action.

Looking into the future: How can increasing your willpower help you achieve your goals?

Long-term goals don't mesh well with short-term commitments. They demand sustained action and a willingness to learn new things continually. Your willpower can help you with that. 

As you learn how to increase willpower, remember that you need discipline and focus to truly utilize it. Before long, you’ll see the positive impacts willpower can have on your professional and personal goals

Developing your willpower isn't something you have to do alone. BetterUp is here to help you strengthen your self-discipline, eliminate self-criticism, and develop your sense of self-awareness so that your willpower can thrive.

New call-to-action

Published August 1, 2022

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

Read Next

Productivity
16 min read | February 15, 2021

Why self-management is key to success and how to improve yours

Self-management is a critical workplace skill that can—and should—be developed. Learn what it is, and how to improve your own self-management skills. Read More
Professional Development
15 min read | January 31, 2022

Self directed learning is the key to new skills and knowledge

Discover what self directed learning is and the benefits that can come from it. Improve every area of your life with a self directed learning practice. Read More
Coaching
19 min read | September 1, 2021

How leadership coaching helps leaders get (and keep) an edge

Are leaders born or made? We think they’re developed. Learn what leadership coaching is, what a program should include, and what leaders might gain from it. Read More
Well-being
13 min read | January 31, 2022

10 ways to overcome adversity and thrive during hard times

Everyone faces adversity, some more than others. Learn from this brief overview what adversity is, some examples, and strategies to help you overcome it. Read More
Well-being
11 min read | February 7, 2022

Overcome self-criticism by getting your inner critic to take a break

Learn where self-criticism comes from and how you can silence (or at least stop listening to) your inner critic. Read More
Leadership & Management
15 min read | March 29, 2022

Humility in leadership: The unsung skill of great leaders

What we need from leaders is changing. Learn why humility in leadership is key in driving collaboration, innovation, and success within your organization. Read More

Stay connected with BetterUp

Get our newsletter, event invites, plus product insights and research.