What Is Willpower?
Almost everybody wishes they had more willpower. But just exactly what is it? Dictionaries define it as a combination of determination and self-discipline. Willpower is what enables a person to do something despite the difficulties involved. Synonyms include: determination, resolve, and resolution.
Psychology researchers have their take on willpower. And they say it can be defined several different ways. People who possess it have the ability to delay gratification of their wishes and impulses. And they can resist short-term temptations to secure longer-term, loftier goals. Willpower gives a person the capacity to override an undesirable thought, feeling, or behavior. It also gives a person the ability to let a set of principles and rational thought processes preside over the emotions or urges of the moment. With strength of will comes the ability to consciously and purposefully self-regulate.
Researchers also say that willpower is a limited resource. As such, it can be depleted. It take energy to maintain healthy resolve. Willpower is a vital resource to be sure. But like any vital resource, it has to be both preserved and replenished at times. We face many issues in life that both demand and tax our willpower. And many times the best defense against exhausting it is steering clear of the temptations that put it to the test.
My patients have long taught me what research has only recently begun realizing: willpower can be both replenished and strengthened with careful practice. Doing so takes effort, of course. And because our energies can be depleted, it’s important to “practice” mindful willfulness in the small, least taxing, but still important matters in life. Mindfully and rightly exercising our will in the little matters builds strength of willpower – and character. And it prepares us to face life’s bigger tests successfully.
The Importance of Willpower
We’ve long known that self-discipline is more important than IQ in predicting academic success. And there are many other areas of life where soundness of will trumps innate talent or ability. I can think of hundreds of examples where people I’ve worked with faced and overcame incredible odds by sheer force of will. The seventh “commandment” I’ve been writing about involves cultivating a strong and principled will. And developing such a will takes practice. But there’s no task more important. It’s not enough to have the will to succeed. To really succeed in the enterprise we call life, one has to be both rightfully minded and rightfully purposed in the exercise of will.
Nurturing Healthy Willpower
Cultivating the right kind of will takes work. But the disturbed characters among us both resent and resist the effort. It’s not that they’re opposed to all work. They’ll expend lots of effort at times, especially when it serves their immediate self-interest. But they’re adverse to another more socially important kind of work. That’s the work of building character. And while I’ve written on this topic before, I’ll be talking about it more and it’s relationship to the the seventh “commandment” of sound character development next week. (See also: Character and Attitudes toward Work.)
Next week I’ll be doing training workshops in Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Sterling Heights, Michigan. Check the Workshops and Seminars page for more training schedule information.