Willpower plays a critical role in our lives; determining our degree of discipline, defining the trajectory of our efforts, and propelling us towards our ambitions. It is an analogue to self-control, a requisite for achievement and undoubtedly one of the more valuable traits a person can possess.
Those endowed with willpower live healthy, happy lives. They achieve all of their goals. They radiate the soft glow of accomplishment and they never leave dishes in the sink.
Ok? perhaps not willpower probably isn’t the answer to all your problems.
But it is probably the answer to most of them. Want to exercise more? Quit smoking? Eat less sugar? Get more done at work? You’re going to need willpower. What’s more, according to the American Psychological Association, willpower is correlated with better grades, higher self-esteem, lower substance abuse rates, greater financial stability and improved physical and mental health.
So, welcome to our two-part series on willpower. In this first part, we look at two theories that map our present understanding of willpower. In the second part, we’ll look at some techniques to boost willpower.
First, however, what is willpower? Essentially, willpower is the ability to delay gratification in pursuit of long-term objectives. A regulation of the self, by the self, for the self. Willpower looks like a morning runner who shakes off sleep and braves the cold because she knows exercise is great for her health (link exercise blog) and that she’ll feel good for the rest of the day if she gets a sweat up. Willpower looks like fresh salad and finished to-do lists. In short, willpower looks good.
Alas, it can be frustratingly fickle. Sometimes we seem to have an abundance of willpower self-control comes easily and we deny all of the desires that conflict with our long-term goals. Other times we are embarrassingly weak, meekly succumbing to sugar cravings, TV, social media or any of many temptations that taunt us on a daily basis. In some areas of our lives, we’re capable of being disciplined and focused, while in others we’re chronically unmotivated.
Why is this? Understanding these questions is an important step towards understanding how to develop your own willpower. So, let’s talk about marshmallows.
You might well have heard of psychologist Walter Mischel’s famous Marshmallow Test. Mischel, then a professor at Stanford University, conducted a series of tests in the late 1960s and early 1970s on delayed gratification, using preschoolers and small…