Willpower can be described as the ability to control or reject desires to indulge in harmful and useless habits. It also allows people to arrive at decisions and then follow them through with perseverance until success has been achieved. Additionally, willpower can help us delay gratification, which as humans, we’re hard-wired to want instantly.
To give you a concrete example of willpower, just think of school. Students need willpower to self-control themselves to maintain attention in class, and to avoid breaking school rules in order to be seen as a good student.
In our modern age, willpower has become known as an important element in success. By has it always been this way?
How We Came to Believe That Willpower Leads to Success
In ancient times we didn’t need willpower, instead, we followed our natural instincts to survive.
However, as civilization evolved, humans wanted to put things in order. We started to create rules for people to follow. And only by following these rules could someone get what they want, and survive in a modern society. Because of these rules, we started to make self-discipline a virtue.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a marshmallow experiment proved willpower was the key to success. The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a series of studies on delayed gratification led by psychologist Walter Mischel, then a professor at Stanford University. The study was simple but revealing. It tested children on a choice between the following rewards:
- Immediately being able to eat a marshmallow.
- Waiting 20 minutes and then being able to eat two marshmallows.
The results of the study were fascinating. Children who were able to wait for the double reward, typically fared better in later life than those children who took the instant gratification route.
Because of this famous study, more emphasis began to be put on the benefits of strengthening willpower.
Nowadays, it’s fair to say that willpower controls a lot of what we do – as we see it as something critical to reaching goals and achieving things. And it’s not just about I want power, but also about I will, and I won’t.
Willpower training has also become big business. There’s countless workshops, online seminars as well as best-selling books such as Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength and The Willpower Instinct.
Try searching for “willpower boost” on Google, and you’ll find thousands of results for articles that purport to show you the ways to do it.
The Limited Power of Willpower
However, most people’s willpower remains weak. Some of the reasons for this are:
- Emotions – which can affect our motivation levels.
- Our physical condition – are you getting enough sleep? (For example.)
- Previous failures – repeating these in our minds kills our willpower.
On top of the above issues, you may have noticed that even when you have an abundance of willpower, it has its limits. Every day, in one form or another, you exert willpower. For instance, if you resist eating a tasty piece of chocolate cake offered to you, then you’ve had to use emotional and mental power.
Willpower is similar to a muscle. If we overuse it, we get tired. In other words, willpower is a limited resource.
How to Succeed with Limited Willpower
Once you realize that willpower has its limits, then the key thing to know is that you must follow a system to reach your goals and dreams. Put systems first, and willpower second.
Willpower is close to useless, if you do not allow it to work alongside a personal success system.
What is this system that I refer to? It’s a system that creates the right conditions in your mind and environment that helps make your success a surefire outcome. With this type of system in place, willpower will simply be an extra bonus in helping you to reach success. But to be clear, with the right system, even if your willpower fails, you’ll still keep on the road to success and achievement. These are the essential steps to build your own success system:
1. Create an environment that is conducive to success
Think for a moment about willpower. On its own, it doesn’t place any emphasis on changing your environment, instead, it puts its focus on overcoming your environment. It’s no wonder then, when the limited willpower begins to fail, people succumb to environmental influences – despite their best efforts to resist.
As human beings, we are consciously and unconsciously influenced by what’s around us. These could be the news we read, the stories our friends tell us, and even the influence our home has on us.
The secret is to, where possible, create an environment that helps (not hinders) the reaching of your goals. For example, if you want to stop binge eating snacks, give away all your snacks to others, and make sure you can’t reach any kind of snacks at your workplace or home.
Your environment can also be used to directly support your goals. For instance, if you want to be a professional artist, surround yourself with professional artists.
2. Know what makes you happy
By knowing what makes you happy, you’ll also reveal what motivates you. This is important.
Take a look around at others, or delve into your past, and you will find that willpower falters when people encounter failure or come across negative events. This clearly demonstrates that willpower is affected by external factors, thus making it unreliable.
Knowing what makes you happy is the perfect way to stay motivated to reach your goals – even when your willpower crumbles. This can be through rewarding yourself by watching a great movie (once you’ve achieved a goal milestone), or by simply enjoying the inner bliss you receive when walking on the pathway that keeps you happy, motivated and successful.
Replace Your Old Beliefs – and Find New Success
Willpower is not the be all and end all we’ve been taught to believe. While it’s certainly a component of success, it’s nowhere near as important as all the self-help gurus claim.
As I’ve discussed above, having a system and a goal, are much more powerful factors in success than willpower.
So, now you know the truth about success, take the steps I’ve suggested, and begin achieving more than you ever thought possible. And if you need any further motivation to help you on your way, check out the Lifehack article Make Good Habits Stick Easily With Productive—the Habit Tracker.
Featured photo credit: Vecteezy via vecteezy.com
|||^||The Atlantic: What the Marshmallow Test Really Teaches About Self-Control|
|||^||Positive Psychology Program: The Psychology of Willpower: Training the Brain for Better Decisions|
|||^||Go To Things: Importance Of Willpower In Life|
|||^||American Psychology Association: What You Need to Know about Willpower|