oops, you did it again. understanding willpower, part 1.

messy dog lacks willpower

We routinely advise clients to rely more on purpose and accountability than willpower for self-control, but it is important that you fully understand this critical component of human behavior to avoid falling prey to its insidious effects.

In my next few posts, I’m going to explore what willpower is, how it works, and what you can do to strengthen it.

A definition

Willpower is your ability to resist a short-term temptation to achieve a long-term goal.  It’s your ability to delay gratification.  And, it’s something most people don’t consciously manage.

Whether you are talking about your ability to eat right, avoid temptations online, steer clear of impulsive spending, get yourself to the gym, or say no to drugs…you are talking about willpower.  And it turns out all of these different variation of willpower are connected.

Leverage and strengthen your willpower in one area and you can positively impact every aspect of your life.  Mismanage it and you can slip into a series of decisions that cascade form bad to worse.

Why it matters

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that willpower was a greater predictor of academic success than intelligence (IQ).  A study at Georgia Mason University found that a group of undergraduate students who demonstrated greater willpower proved to have higher grades, fewer substance abuse issues, and stronger relationship skills.

Terrie Moffit of Duke University studied 1000 children who were tracked for 32 years and found that children with greater self-control were more likely to experience better physical and mental health, achieve better financial security, and avoid substance abuse and criminal convictions.

Good news, bad news

Some people simply possess more willpower than others.  If you are one of them, the good news is that it appears to be persistent over time.  Children who participated in the landmark ‘marshmallow’ study on willpower by Walter Mischel, a psychologist now at Columbia University, showed similar willpower characteristics 40 years later. Those who had willpower as kids had it as adults.

Of course, this is also the bad news.  If you didn’t start with a healthy dose of willpower, you probably don’t have much more now…unless you know how to develop it.

Good news for everyone

The silver lining is that willpower can be strengthened, and if nothing else, there are simple tactics for managing your willpower to maximum benefit.  In my subsequent posts, I’ll dig into more research about how willpower works and how you can hack into it for maximum benefit.

Please comment. Do you know someone with more or less willpower than you?  How has it made you feel to see them resist or fall prey in ways that are so different from you?