Tuesday, December 19, 2017



Willpower can be defined as ”A control of one´s impulses, actions and attention” or as ”A control exerted to do something or restrain impulses.”

Four uses of willpower

Willpower is used to control our thoughts, emotions, impulses, and attention. We have some predetermined thoughts that conserve willpower, because we are not seeking the best answer and we settle for them. Deliberate thinking uses lots of willpower and we should avoid it when it is not necessary. We control our emotions. This is called affect regulation. It means we are focused on our moods. We are trying to avoid bad unpleasant moods and trying to concentrate on good ones. Impulse control like resisting temptations is the most common way of thinking willpower. It is not the only one. We also need to concentrate our attention on good things to achieve high performance. Willpower is needed for getting things done, as much as resisting doing things. I did not understand this for a long time. Maybe some of the readers think so too.

Modeling willpower as a muscle

The best way to think about willpower is considering it as a muscle. We can practice to gain more willpower. It atrophies, when we do not use it. We can also use it too much and it gets fatigued. We can have many ways of improving willpower. We can improve our physical conditions. We can practice by trying to achieve bigger willpower challenges. For example, we can try to push through a physical barrier after having a long run or we can push through even though we feel fatigued. We can also try cutting back on sweets or making a smaller budget for groceries, which is harder to manage. We should not start exercising by trying to get big results. Willpower should be exercised by taking small steps first. Then getting bigger ones later.

We make decisions all the time. Each decision consumes your willpower. When we use willpower, our self-control system of the brain becomes less active. Our brains use the energy reserved for willpower first, because it is one of the biggest drains of energy in our brains. Our impulsive shelves have more power after we have used all the willpower. We make more decisions based on our impulses and cannot think straight. All of this happens, because our brains are interested in getting more energy for survival, not to think properly. Like our muscles, willpower get stronger with having right nutrition. It also gets weaker with wrong nutrition. When willpower is down we give into temptations and our muscles do not function accordingly, if their energy level is low. Muscles also atrophy if we don´t use them. Same goes to willpower. We need to give it challenges like we have to move our muscles.

Willpower is psychological and physical

Prefrontal cortex controls our willpower. When we lose our control in this part of the brain, we lose our willpower. Every willpower challenge is a conflict for our decision making system. It´s impulsive and rational parts are fighting together. We can succeed in our willpower challenges by using our impulsive system into our advantage. We can program our impulsive system to overcome willpower challenges by using our rational system. This will take some time. During willpower challenges, our psychological state matters. Without getting into details, we need to slow down our internal state. One of the ways of acknowledging the amount of willpower we currently have is how strong our emotional states are. When we are having lower willpower, our emotional state is stronger. Higher willpower means less emotional state of mind.

Willpower is also a physical state. We can change our physiology into a state where willpower is the strongest. Our willpower is tied into our body´s natural cycles and the fluctuation of its energy supply. Controlling our brain´s glucoce level is the key. Our willpower is low, if our glucose level is not optimal. With low glucose level, our willpower cannot function properly. Then, our brain moves to the path of least resistance and starts giving in to our impulses. We should eat slow burning foods to keep it in the right level. Then we use our willpower when it matters the most.

Willpower´s friends and enemies

Willpower has many friends. I have mentioned that right nutrition is needed to keep our glucose levels stable through the day. In the short term, we can sometimes settle for the less effective solution. If there is a situation, in which we need willpower temporarily, like making a big decision, when we are tired, willpower can be acquired by eating something sweet. Exercise is one of the best ways to increase our willpower. Exercise has a short and long term effects. Strengthening willpower can happen through exercise that lasts only five minutes. Relaxing is also good for willpower. When we are in a state with physical and mental rest, our brain takes a rest from thinking about the future and analyzing the past.

When we see other people following their impulses, we give in to our temptations more easily. It is even worse when we identify ourselves as like them. This works fortunately both ways. It is easier for us to use our willpower, when we think these people accept the behavior. Resisting temptations become easier in the short term. All we need is about fifteen minutes of exercise and our willpower increases in the short term. Exercice also reduces one of the biggest enemies of willpower, stress, in the long term, stress in the long term. Remembering why we are doing something is a friend too. When we come into a situation, in which we need to make choice about giving into an impulse or resisting temptation, remembering why to resist can help us overcome our temptations.

Lack of sleep is one of the enemies of willpower. When we haven´t slept enough, our cells have trouble absorbing glucose from our bloodstream. Our brains and bodies become desperate for energy. And they start craving glucose and are ready to find it from anything. Sleeping one night well and long can restore our brain to work in an optimal level. During the day, even short naps may be enough. Chronic stress is bad for willpower. When we are stressed all the time, our body diverts energy from long-term needs to attacking short term emergencies. It reduces the energy our brain uses. Then, both of them are ready to fight stress and our willpower becomes low.

We should have willpower in use, when it is most needed. We should plan our days and design our environments in ways we can optimize its use. Especially, when we know we have some important decisions to make, we should avoid all the unnecessary decisions. The other way is to plan naps or exercise before making the important decision.


Willpower:, Roy Baumeister
The Willpower Instinct, Kelly Mcgonical
The Marshmallow Test, Walter Mischel

I will have a christmas brake and get back in business in January,

Merry christmas and a happy new year!



  1. I wonder what is your source here in your writings? Or have you invented all these ideas and methods by yourself? If you do not, it would be nice to mention sources in your text =)

  2. It is a legitimate question. I have updated most of my sources into the texts. There are some online dictionaries missing for definitions. Those are easy to find By putting the name of the mental model and definition and search with google.