Willpower – the Surprising Ingredient that Sustains Our New Habits

photo of person holding cupcake

Imagine you have promised yourself to read every day.  The book you want to read has been lying on your shelf for the past 3 months; however, you have not touched it even once.  Your motivation to read is suddenly triggered after attending a training session at office, where the trainer glowingly quoted from books, coincidentally some of which you already own, but haven’t read.  You immediately decide to begin this habit somehow.  You are motivated after moving to a new diet plan recently, having ditched up sweets altogether, and are doing pretty well on it for the past three days.  After reaching home, while you usually watch TV, today, decide to replace it with reading.

First few lines and you begin feeling sleepy.  It’s getting difficult to concentrate and your plan on reading a chapter everyday seems to be faltering.  However, you continue, but by the time you reach the second page, your mind has given up.  You suddenly stand up, put the book on the side table, gorge on, first the chocolates in the fridge, and follow it up with eating every sugary product you have been craving for.  The binge eat continues for a while and then arrives the guilt trip with all its pomp and glory in a few hours.

The usual self-cursing begins for falling short on the discipline again and for surrendering to your urges, leading to breaking-up of a new promise every now and then.  This you now remember as your sixth instance when you decided to stick to something before ending up in sabotaging it by giving up to your indulgence.  You blame yourself, your genes and think of people who can self-restraint to have evolved on a different planet something, not cut out for you.

This is one story, a vast majority of us can relate to especially those who contemplate starting new habits like, reading, exercising, being disciplined or to follow a healthier diet etc. but give up even before the routine could be turned into a habit.  So, what leads to failure.

There are several reasons; however, I will focus on one today – Willpower.

What differentiates Achievers from wannabes?  It is definitely not the goal as both of them have their sights set on achieving something. In most cases, it is also not lack of knowledge or resources, but the tenacity to continue with an unwavering trust in the process.

It is the process, which one adhere to, and the other escapes from that leads to a fork, where the two of them diverge on their paths – one becoming what he/she wants while the other continuing to wander and wonder what’s stopping them.

Stanford Marshmallow experiment provided us with the first experimental proof on how willpower play a critical role in delaying gratification.  Another study conducted involved students divided into two groups, asked to skip lunch, and then fed with delicious cookies or radishes and then made to solve an unsolvable math problem.  The group, which had to resist cookies spent around 8 minutes on the problem whereas the other group, which ate cookies, spent 31 minute, almost 4 times more than the first group.

The above two experiments proved willpower is a finite resource, which gets depleted over time.  However, it was also proved that just as regular exercise could build our muscles and stamina; we can build our will power also with regular exercise, discipline and following certain routines.  Some of the routines we can follow to build our willpower includes;

  1. Practicing Mindfulness and Meditation – Just a few minutes of mindfulness exercises can help us in getting closer to your inner self. Focusing on our breathing or observing a flower or a fruit closely while trying to comprehend those aspects, which we normally ignore or don’t pay attention to helps in staying in the present while attaining a state of thoughtlessness.


  1. Exercise – Any form of physical exercise or yoga not only keeps our body in shape but also has a powerful positive impact on our brain. The release of endorphins and neurotransmitters like dopamine calms us and motivates us to stick to our good habits.


  1. Eating Well – What we eat is what we become. Fast food or food loaded with oil, sugar and salt will only stimulate our reptilian brain, which will only ask more of it and build a vicious circle of crazy food habits.  Being mindful of what we eat leads us to eating better and as we observe what we are eating, we tend to eat healthier.  Food, which is balanced and rich in nutrients, will include fruits, cereals, vegetables and fresh produce.


  1. Sleeping Well – Most of our willpower is depleted when we don’t sleep or rest well. Our brain consumes 20% of the energy our body produces and when it does not get enough rest, it is in a constant vigilant state, leading to aggression and irritation.  A good night’s sleep provide it with the necessary down time to reinvigorate itself which leads to better brain functioning and improved willpower.

The above-mentioned suggestions may seem difficult to practice, however once we get ourselves into following even one, the rest are easier to follow.  Exercise and mindfulness are two keystone habits, which can bring about amazing changes in almost every other area of our life by making us more disciplined and open to accepting change as well as new things.


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