Focus on *this* instead of willpower

written by Philip Stefanov  |  AUGUST 23, 2022

Unless you’ve spent most of your life on a deserted island with no internet connection, you’ve come across the idea of using willpower to get things done. Looking to excel at work? Willpower. Want to train harder at the gym? Willpower. Interested in going back to school to earn a degree? That’s right––willpower.

The idea makes sense because we must first conquer our minds before doing anything. But is that genuinely the case? Are fit, wealthy, and successful people in a good place because they possess greater willpower than others, or might there be more to it?

What is Willpower?

Willpower is the ability to put effort into something positive or restrain impulses. With fitness, an example would be hitting the gym and resisting that plate of cookies on the kitchen table.

Some people seem to have more willpower than others. A lot goes into human psychology, and trying to understand why one person never misses a workout and another can’t seem to string three sessions in a row would be nearly impossible. Yet, despite our understanding, willpower is in the background of our lives and plays a crucial role in our choices.

One famous study called the Marshmallow experiment illustrated that well. The experiment had 92 children between the ages of three and five, and each was placed in a room with nothing but a table. Researchers put a marshmallow on the table and told each child they would step out of the room for a bit. If the child didn’t eat the marshmallow, they would be rewarded with a second one.

While the researchers were away, some children jumped and ate the marshmallow immediately, others hesitated for a while but ate the treat, and a third group resisted the temptation. Several years and some follow-up studies later, researchers behind the original experiment realized something. The kids who could delay gratification and wait for the promised reward did better at school, had better social lives, responded well to stress, and were more successful in various areas of life. You can read more about that in a previous newsletter I sent out.

It’s clear that willpower plays a vital role in life. It dictates what choices we make and puts us on a specific path in life.

An Aspect of Willpower Most People Overlook

Most people see willpower as this innate ability to do what’s right and avoid instant gratification no matter the circumstances. The idea is accurate, but only to a degree. Many people fail to realize that your ability to control yourself depends on more than sheer will.

Your surroundings will always influence the choices you make. For instance, if you’re trying to stop smoking, it will be much easier if you stop hanging around smokers. If you’re trying to eat better, you will be more successful by filling your kitchen with whole foods and throwing the processed junk out. If you want to exercise more frequently, it will be easier if you clear enough room at home and get some essential equipment.

Having willpower is vital because our surroundings won’t always be ideal. But, a big part of making the right choice comes down to making positive behaviors easier and negative ones more challenging.

So, ask yourself what goals you want to achieve in life and consider what actions you need to take every day. Break down how to make these actions easy to start and what aspects of your surroundings might get in the way.

Thank you for taking the time. Until next week,


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