Cultivating Healthy Willpower

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.)

Character Matters will be live Sunday, 10-22-2016 at 7 pm EDT. Call in at (718) 717-8296 to join the discussion. And be sure to check out my books and the many helpful articles on this blog.

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.

23 thoughts on “Cultivating Healthy Willpower

  1. Dr. Simon,

    Excellent topic. ONe of the most difficult things for me to do was practice NC and I mean NC which in the end served me well. There were times I wanted to call, but did not. It was so difficult and I think this is when prayer and faith proved my best allie.

    I wanted to say I didn’t break NC out of will-power but out of sheer stubbornness from everything I had educated myself on, I knew I would be making a big mistake. The thought of starting at day 1 was sheer torment and each day after was as bad as the first. But starting over from the beginning I don’t think I could had stood it.

    I have a stubborn streak which I have worked on over the years and this time it was this stubborn streak that served me well.

  2. “The seventh “commandment” I’ve been writing about involves cultivating a strong and principled will”.

    Could you classify this as HEALTHY NARCISSISM.

  3. This commandment. I would say is what separates us neurotics from the DC’S. I would like to add that it would have be the key stone of sound healthy character.
    You have done it again DR SIMON. Thank You SSSSSSSOOOOOOO MUCH.

    Reminds me of the standford test

    ” 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”

    1. Hi Andy, TheresaK, Vera, LisaO, Jeanne

      We haven’t heard anything from you for awhile, how are all of you doing? I hope you pop in and let us know.

      Be well and Blessings

      1. Doing good. Every now and then there are bit of usual problems, but nothing as bad as living with a CD under same roof.

  4. This is an excellent topic. What o need help with is replenishing the willpower. I’m exhausted dealing with the divorce issues with the CD in my life. I Am So Tired. I have friends who support me, this blog, but still I at times want to say enough is enough. I’m done. But then – I look at the long term effect giving up would have – so there I go keep fighting the fight.
    I can’t do no contact. I do as little as possible. Once this divorce is over I will have zero contact with the CD. He is toxic poison I can easily steer away from, forever.

  5. Lucy,
    Read this article over a couple of times and draw steangth from it. You are stronger and have more willpower than he ever expected from you. At this point you either give the monies to the attornies or to him. NEVER give in you have to much to lose, stand strong, and fight for what you have worked for all these years. SB blew all his away, to bad, he has no right and I say steal what you rightfully earned and saved.

    This to will pass, when you are in it it never seems there will be an end to it. The longer he can keep this going the more SB is counting on you giving up. SB has done this to people all his life and it worked. Well not this time, this time SB will have the fight of his life and from “stupid dumb you” well he will never admit he underestimated your tenacity to press forward.

    Lucy this is your strength of character and I know you can pull it off, you have immense will power to have fought this long and hard and gone to work everyday and babysit the little one too. Just know we are all here for you and you are in our hearts and prayers. Fight the good fight and you will come out the winner. You didn’t sell your integrity like he did. I know you can do it and anytime you need a shoulder, just know we are all here for you.


      1. Lucy,
        You are to far into it to give up now. I found that the things that I need to do in my life that are so repulsive I could vomit forever. But in order for it to resolve and give me my freedom to go on with my life I need to go through it not around it. Pray for strength and believe in yourself.

        When I was where you were at it was like the never-ending story and I am still not finished. Going around it on prolongs the pain and agony. This is where your strength of character and will power will come into play.

        Use all that ugliness, pain and suffering to make you a better person. Incorporate into your being and it will give you strength. Another thing in your having to stick to your guns and fight back with all your strength, the CD don’t respect weakness, they will use it against you. You need to show strength and don’t budge and inch because if you do SB will take that as a sign to dig in deeper.

        Stay strong Kindred Spirit we are all praying for you and will lend you our strength and helping hand. If you need to vent, then do it and we will listen, it will help to release a lot of anxiety and stress. Vent, Vent, Vent, we know what you are going through, sound off and get some of that frustration out.


  6. Hi Dr George, I am a person who suffered from severe neurosis for such a long time. As you mention in your book, Character Disturbances; the best medicine for people like me is insight….and that is what you have provided for me. I feel a freedom I’ve never felt before and a control over my life I’ve never experienced before. In true neurotic form, I’ve always searched for ‘why’ someone would want to cause suffering. I don’t ask that question of myself anymore and look at the person’s character and what they want to win. This following question has occurred to me… Do you think that character disturbed institutions and people in our world cause and help perpetuate neurosis? Nothing is 100% of course.

    1. Louisa,
      I am a little confused, if you don’t mind my asking, what do you mean by neurosis and pertaining to whom?

      Thank you

      1. BTOV

        Principled will, to stay NO-CONTACT

        The Tyger

        Written by William Blake

        Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
        In the forest of the night,
        What immortal hand or eye
        Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

        In what distant deeps or skies
        Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
        On what wings dare he aspire?
        What the hand dare seize the fire?

        And what shoulder, and what art,
        Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
        And when thy heart began to beat,
        What dread hand? and what dread feet?

        What the hammer? what the chain?
        In what furnace was thy brain?
        What the anvil? what dread grasp
        Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

        When the stars threw down their spears,
        And watered heaven with their tears,
        Did he smile his work to see?
        Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

        Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
        In the forests of the night,
        What immortal hand or eye
        Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

        1. Joey,
          That was amazing, it means a lot that you wrote that poem for me. You brought tears to my eyes and a smile.
          Across the Ocean dear Kindred Spirit ((((((HUGS))))))
          So beautiful and truly said.

          All this made possible because of Dr. Simons Blog
          God bless you Dr. Simon and your work, be well.

      2. Hi BTOV, and thank you for your question. It has made me truly think about how how to define neurosis in my own words…not so easy. When I think of neurosis, I think of the overly conscientious, over thinkers among us. I believe it is those of us who would do anything to prevent causing hurt or pain but at the same time have too much self doubt about our own convictions to act on them. At the most negative end of neurosis, it can leave someone almost ‘frozen’ and unable to take any kind of action at all. I’m hoping that I’m explaining myself well enough.

        1. Louisa,

          neurosis as psychological word has a special meaning. Look up internet for a quick simple definition. Continuing in psychological terms, neurotic person will be one suffering from neurosis.

          But, around here, neurotic individual is used to mean something very similar that you explained… overly conscientious, over thinkers among us. Technically it is inaccurate.

          So, there is some difference between strictly technical terms, and how those terms get used on this website. “neurotic person” is main one. “neurosis phenomenon” is not used here often, and if used it is used in its psychological meaning.

          So, a more technically accurate version of your original post will be, “I am a person who suffered because of my overly conscientious nature (neurotic in your terms) for such a long time… Do you think that character disturbed institutions and people in our world cause and help perpetuate overly conscientious?”

          In my opinion, answer to last question is “Yes”.
          I actually did not feel guilty or ashamed about certain things, by correctly placing the responsibility at right person. Till my dear character disturbed started asking me:
          – Don’t you feel guilty…
          – Don’t you feel ashamed…
          And, I actually started to think that may I should feel guilty/ashamed, maybe I did not care enough, maybe this, maybe that.
          Same should true with some CD cults. Start sermon by first taking audience to a guilt-trip.

          1. Louisa,
            AndyD, has explained in very well how we interpret neurosis on this blog and I hope he has helped you. I would like to expand a little further, Louisa said: “it can leave someone almost “frozen” and to take any action at all.” In this sentence you describe PTSD and that is another whole animal.

            Louisa, I welcome you and encourage you to post on this blog. I understand where you are coming from, I too have PTSD. I hope you keep posting, there is a lot we can learn from one another. Also, we have a great group of posters who will also welcome you. You met AndyD who gives great advise and insight.

            We can heal together, band together, to make each other strong. I hope you will share more of your story, your fears, hurts and pain etc., and give us the opportunity to help each other grow. You are not alone in this.

            I would encourage you to read the archives of this blog and post you questions and concerns, I will guarantee you you will walk away with more knowledge and self esteem. We are all kindred spirits here on this journey. Welcome!

          2. Hi Andy D, thank you so much for taking the time to reply and I will further my research into the more academic meaning of the term ‘neurosis’. I too was allowing CDs to use their tactics on me, leaving me confused about my thoughts and actions, doubting who I was and also wondering how I attracted such people into my life. Reading Dr. Simon’s books has caused me to have such a valuable paradigm shift. It answered how my character attracted such people and finally to see their true motives, thus allowing me to begin to confront them properly…and that takes practice.

  7. Satan in John Milton’s Paradise Lost exemplifies the insight in the last paragraph of the post. Satan acts with epic courage, will and determination–but all for destructive purposes. His work is completely self-serving (in a delusional, self-destructive way), and he resists healthy character building. Paradise Lost is a great study of the dangerous charm of some manipulative personalities.

    1. GBS,
      Thanks for suggesting the read. We all appreciate any and all insightful info.

      Your comment I totally agree with.

  8. Thanks for the warm welcome BTOV, I like this tribe. I wanted to tell you that this journey is causing me to ever expand. In forcing myself to confront (quite forcefully, I might add) one particular CD, I have grown in self respect… and this is just the beginning for me.

  9. Louisa,
    I am so happy for you, your happiness, your growth encourages our growth too. Giving and helping one another. The CD are great at subtitles in tearing down our self respect and confidence. Now you are armed, you do what you have to do. I will warn you though don’t educate the CD on your knowledge, you will only educate them.

    Read this blog, it contains a wealth of knowledge. A true CD if they ever change are Contrite, Dr. Simon wrote a good topic on this.

    Yes, we do have a great group of posters. I am glad you found your way here.

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