If you feel like you lack willpower, you’re not alone. Here’s what you can do.
If you find it difficult to make healthy lifestyle changes, you may feel as though a lack of willpower or a lack of self-control is to blame. This is a common feeling. In one survey conducted by the APA, people regularly cited a lack of willpower as the number one reason for not making lasting changes.
A lack of willpower is not a moral failing. It is also not permanent. Willpower is like a muscle or any other skill that can be worked and strengthened.
Here’s how you can develop more willpower.
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines willpower as the ability to resist short-term temptations in pursuit of long-term goals; or a basic ability to delay gratification.
Willpower, therefore, is highly associated with self-control, discipline, and self-regulation.
Although 2019 research suggests that genetics do play a role in a person’s level of willpower (approximately 60%), there is room to grow and anyone can improve.
The main component of willpower is identifying what you truly want to channel your energy around. Research suggests that willpower may be a limited resource that, if exerted too heavily, can lead to depletion.
If you want to improve your willpower, therefore, you may want to reflect on what is truly valuable to you and why you have the goals that you have. In that sense, willpower is about being intentional with your energy and learning how to connect your core values to your actions.
Research supported by the APA suggests willpower is necessary for goal accomplishment. If you currently don’t have much willpower, don’t worry. There are proven ways to help you exercise willpower and use it to your advantage. Here are some tips.
Consider practicing mindfulness
Mindfulness — the practice of focusing on the present and remaining in the moment — can be a great technique for cultivating willpower. Focusing on your thoughts takes a certain level of willpower and is a skill that can improve over time.
A 2014 study found that mindfulness increased self-control in college students and reduced psychological distress. One of the reasons that mindfulness can help reduce psychological distress is that it teaches self-regulation skills.
Self-regulation is important because it’s not realistic to avoid desires entirely. Mindfulness allows people to make more intentional choices and reduce feelings of guilt when they do choose to indulge in a desire.
For instance, a study from 2016 demonstrated that participants experienced less internal conflict between immediate desires and long-term goals when in a high state of mindfulness.
Other studies have also found that when participants focus on gratitude, a form of mindfulness practice, they were more likely to engage in delayed gratification.
Make individual goals and plans
The APA suggests building self-control by making clear goals and plans of action toward your future objectives. Having a plan in place helps a person make more intentional decisions when they are in the moment so that they don’t resort to acting on impulses.
For instance, if you are not currently drinking alcohol or are in recovery from alcohol use disorder, you may want to create a plan for what you will say if someone offers you a drink at a party.
You might come up with a phrase that handles the question in advance of the temptation. For example, you could say, “I’d love a drink, thanks! I’ll have a club soda with lime” as your response.
Try to reduce or avoid temptations
Researchers also suggest removing temptations to the best of your ability so that you don’t need to put yourself in a position where high self-control is required. For example, you can go the route of bringing your own alcohol-free beverages to help avoid the temptation at the aforementioned party.
This also reduces the likelihood of someone asking you if you want a drink which removes the need to go through the above exercise of asking for a non-alcoholic beverage (and hoping they have something you like).
Consider your sleeping habits
Your brain needs good sleep most days a week to maintain functionality. This amounts to around 7 or more hours of sleep for adults, according to the
If you have a sleep disorder or are experiencing trouble getting enough sleep, consider speaking to a healthcare professional who may recommend seeing a sleep specialist.
Researchers suggest sleep deprivation is associated with self-control difficulties, overall poorer decision-making abilities, and greater impulse control challenges.
Willpower is more complicated than a person wanting or not wanting to do something. Willpower is about the ability to resist temptation (immediate desire) for a long-term goal (want in the future).
Although research suggests there is a genetic component to willpower, willpower and self-control should still be viewed as a skill than can be strengthened and developed.
Ways to develop willpower include practicing mindfulness through mindfulness meditations or gratitude, making specific plans and goals with clear objectives, trying to avoid or reduce access to temptations, and getting enough sleep.