Improving Our Will Power – Cultivating Habits – Part – III

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Photo by Artem Beliaikin on

The last post of mine ended with a question on how to generate and discover the will power to sustain habits (good ones of course).  Willpower to some extent is synonymous with a strong determination, self-discipline, Self-control etc.  A lot of us would have gone through the research on will and delayed gratification.  Weakly willed people tend to show a higher propensity for instant gratification and reduced patience levels.


One such experiment conducted on kids was Stanford Marshmallow experiment in 1972 by Professor Walter Mischel.  In the experiment, the children’s were to choose between having one marshmallow immediately or get two if they do not eat the one offered and wait for 10 minutes.  Kids who showed an ability to delay were not only rewarded with one more marshmallow but follow up research also showed they performed better in life compared to the ones who preferred instant gratification.  The ‘delayed’ kids got better grades and jobs, got married earlier, stayed in marriage longer, and altogether had a more stable life.


According to APA (American Psychological Association), most psychology researchers define willpower as:

  • The ability to delay gratification and resist short-term temptations to meet long-term goals;
  • The capacity to override an unwanted thought, feeling or impulse;
  • The conscious, effortful regulation of the self, by the self;
  • A limited resource capable of being depleted.

A research showed people solving an unsolvable maths problem for a longer duration after having a cookie compared to another group, which had to resist the cookie earlier.  Continued resistance and use of willpower depleted their ability to continue longer when faced with a math problem.

Neurologically speaking, willpower is part of the prefrontal cortex, the newest part of our brain and saves us from showing our animal instincts in inappropriate situations. Since, we have to use to so often in a number of situations, most of the time we are left with a limited supply of it.

When we try to develop new habits, one thing that resists the most is our own mind, deluging us with a million reasons on why we should not follow the new routine.  However, if we could train our mind using the right reward, the research shows, it works in most cases.  Some of the things we can do to enhance our will power includes;

  • Practicing mindfulness – Becoming aware of what we are doing and asking why we are doing it helps in most cases. We perform many of our actions on autopilot without much thought.  Being mindful can help us in avoiding that burger or a pizza in the afternoon.
  • Physical Activity – Releases enormous amounts of endorphins and dopamine, which helps in enhancing our will, the will to say no to things we find difficult to reject.
  • Diet – Eating right is important as what we eat not only nourishes our body but also aids or hinder the strength of our will power.
  • Sleep – One of the most critical ingredient of a healthy mind and body is a good night’s sleep. Sleeping 8 hours not only rejuvenates our body and mind but, also keeps us in the right spirits all day.

We can see that there is an interdependent relationship between good habits and willpower.  Your willpower will sustain your good habits and good habits will enhance your willpower.  So, investing in one leads to receiving twin returns.

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