Each holiday season we are faced with temptations that eat into our willpower. The chocolate truffle on the table, the exercise that falls by the wayside to go to the last party and the extra sweets and heavy dinners. We need to know what willpower is before we’ll be able to figure out how to increase your will power.
In some circles will power is a negative or at least an outdated word. Counselors say it is counterproductive because it causes people to blame themselves instead of working toward change. The more popular word used to replace will power is motivation. It appears that people feel they are able to change or increase their motivation while their will power is something they are born with.
Does will power actually exist? Until recently there was no doubt that it existed. It isn’t the THING that is in dispute but rather the term that is used to describe the thing. Ancient philosophers believed that will power was at the center of human personality. They believed that desire, reason and will were the cornerstone of human personality.
Can will power be measured? In order to answer how to increase your will power you first have to know if it can be measured. Science is based on research and qualitative or quantitative data. Before psychologists develop programs to change behavior they must see proof that it is possible through multiple case studies or randomized research studies. In a study conducted with 4-year-olds they attempted to measure what we are calling willpower.
A child was left alone in a room with a cookie. The child was told he would get two cookies if he didn’t eat this one. Unknown to him the researchers taped him with a hidden camera to see how long he held out. The experiment had a long-term component also. The children were tracked and the ones with higher resistance appeared to do better in their later lives. (1,2)
Are we born with will power that cannot be changed or affected? In some recent experiments researchers seem to believe that their results show that will power is much like a muscle – it can strengthen and it can tire.
To start exercising your will power muscle begin with stuff that your out-of-shape will can handle. Write with your left hand instead of your right, skip one meal, skip the afternoon snack. Look for ways to use your willpower against your want-power.
At the University of Pennsylvania cognitive psychologists looked at the behavior of learned helplessness. Researchers first noticed in experiments with dogs the behavior of learned helplessness. The dogs had learned to give up based on previous experience. He also believed that this could be unlearned. (3)
How is learned helplessness associated with willpower?
Willpower, motivation, drive, desire – what ever you chose to call it – is malleable – it is changeable dependent upon your life circumstances and also upon your desire to change it. The key, according to psychologists, is your little voice inside your head that analyzes and explains things that happen to you.
There are two types of voices – optimistic and pessimistic. The optimist believes good things happen because they made them happen and bad things are a function of the situation, which will be different next time. The pessimist will believe that good things happen just because and bad things always happen to them.
Psychologists believe that you can change these scripts and then your script will change you. First become aware of when you are talking to yourself – catch yourself in the act and then see what you are telling yourself. Write down what you would say if you were an optimist. The act of writing down your script will activate neurological pathways that are different from when you are saying the script.
People often question how to increase your will power. Will power is important in all aspects of life from dieting to sports to exercise and your job. Improving your will power and exercising that muscle will improve your success.
(1) ScienceNews: Delayed Gratification is about World View as much as Will Power
(2) Super Consciousness: How Willpower Equals Success
(3) Annual Reviews: Learned Helplessness