This article is going to show you how to train willpower and why doing so is crucial to success.
Our civilization does its best to convince us that the ideal life is an easy life. That is a myth. It’s an open secret that the people who achieve massive success and recognition in their field, those of us who express their natural gifts to their fullest, embark on a difficult journey to get there. They achieved their success by doing the high value activities which most of us refuse to do.
The secret to success is simple: to succeed we need to do the things that most people don’t do. It means focusing on our training/creating, keeping our mind fit and our body strong, eating well and raising our skills to their pinnacle. It’s not easy. The people who succeed uncommonly do so because they convince themselves to do these valuable activities even when they don’t want to do them. That takes willpower.
So read on if you want to know how to train your willpower.
What Is Willpower?
Willpower is defined as “the strength of will to carry out one’s decisions, wishes or plans.” So then what is “will”? It’s the faculty every human has to choose a course of action. Another word for will is intention.
Science cannot agree upon what the source of our will, or intention, is. Human consciousness is the deepest mystery ever encountered by science. I believe the source of our will is our soul. That’s the reason it cannot be characterized or detected by material instruments; it’s impossible to detect the immaterial spirit with material devices.
So our willpower is what enables us to choose our own course of action. We all have willpower, but that doesn’t mean our willpowers are equal. Willpower is a spectrum; some people have tremendous wills, they are able to consistently make the choices which sets them on the path of happiness and success; other people have feeble willpower, they are inconsistent with their efforts and allow any obstacle to derail their efforts at betterment.
We all exist on this spectrum of willpower. Examples of people who had tremendous willpower are: Nelson Mandela, Marie Curie, Viktor Frankl and Mohammad Ali. These people were not born great. They consistently used their willpower to enact the change they wanted to experience. The greater our willpower, the greater our power to create change.
Most of us don’t have the willpower it takes to unite a country (Mandela) or earn Nobel prizes in chemistry AND physics (Curie). Most of us coast along in a state of average willpower. Some of us are even below average, like I was a few years ago.
Talent Is Not Important
I don’t know about you, but I used to believe that inborn talent was what determined whether a person became a success or not. I believed great artists, musicians and athletes were born with a gift that most of us just didn’t receive.
That’s a myth.
Anders Ericsson was an expert on the psychology of human expertise. In his book, “Peak” he writes that inborn talent is an insignificant contributor to a person’s expertise. It’s through deliberate practice that experts capitalize on their potential and express their highest skill.
Don’t confuse inborn talent and physical characteristics; a tall person will have an advantage in sports like basketball and rowing when compared to a shorter person. But “being tall” is not a talent.
Talent can be defined as an innate advantage in performance. It’s influence on success is overstated in our day and age. Talented people may have a small edge on “less talented” or “average” people, but the biggest determinant in people’s skill levels is not due to talent, it’s due to deliberate practice.
What Is Deliberate Practice?
Deliberate practice is practice which is just familiar enough to be comfortable, but just unfamiliar enough to be expanding our limits. It’s systematic, requires focus and is effortful. Mindless repetition is not deliberate practice.
For example, people who have typed on a computer for many years have probably reached a plateau in their typing skill. As long as they don’t practice, meeting their limits and expanding them, it wont matter how long they type, they will remain in the plateau.
The same can be said of any skill. If we are to increase our skill, we must practice at the edge of our skill level. Skilled coaches and instructors are able to guide their athletes/students to inhabit this state of comfortable discomfort (or uncomfortable comfort). That way the athletes/students keep improving their skill.
Willpower Is A Skill
Just like playing the violin, kicking a soccer ball or playing chess, willpower is a skill. I call willpower the fundamental skill; it’s the skill from which all other skills are born.
Why is willpower the fundamental skill? Because the most successful people in any field are those who consistently do the things that most people refuse to do. And in order to consistently do the things most people refuse to do, what is needed is willpower.
And just like any other skill, willpower can be trained and strengthened.
Isn’t that amazing? How empowering is it to see willpower under this light?
When we reframe willpower as a trainable skill we open the door to unlocking our potential. By accepting that the best of the best aren’t where they are because of some innate gift, but because they exerted their willpower to elevate their skills to the highest peaks, we also accept that we are capable of employing the same mechanism to improve our lot in life.
By training our willpower through deliberate practice we become capable of doing the things most people are not willing to do. And in so doing we raise the level of our game; we express our fullest potential and can serve our fellow human beings to the best of our ability. We magnify our capacity to contribute positively to the human endeavor.
And I believe that’s something every human wants, whether they’re aware of it or not. To contribute, to add their own stroke on the canvas of our civilization, to matter.
So by training our willpower we expand our contribution. And by expanding our contribution we also grow our rewards.
Want to be wealthy? Easy. Train your willpower.
How To Train Your Willpower
It’s exceedingly simple. Voluntarily put yourself into uncomfortable situations.
I train my willpower in the following ways:
- I get up at 5AM most days
- Right after I wake up I exercise (Scott Sonnon’s “Six Degree Flow” is amazing for morning exercise)
- I practice intermittent fasting
- I go on runs
- I cross-country ski (in the winter)
- I hike up mountains (in the summer and fall)
- I meditate
All of these activities make me uncomfortable. That’s exactly why I do them.
How Do These Activities Train Willpower?
I’ll explain how these activities train willpower by focusing on my 5 AM rising habit.
Every weekday morning my alarm goes off at 5 AM. Most days I want to stay in bed. It’s warm under the blankets and my room is dark and cozy. The animal in me, that primitive part which wants to remain lazy and comfortable, entices me with promises of warmth and safety in bed. It enchants and seduces. It calls on me to remain where I am.
My higher self knows that by getting up early and following my routine I set myself up for success. My lower self doesn’t care, it wants me to be safe and comfortable, to not grow. Every human being has these two opposing forces within herself and himself. On the one hand we want to grow and rise to our best; on the other, we want to be lazy and relax, to not expend more energy than is necessary to just coast (read this article for more on that).
By getting up despite the enticements of my lower self I train my willpower. Every time I choose to get up at 5 AM, to face the discomfort of leaving my warm bed, I am strengthening my ability to stay consistent and focused on what I want.
By facing discomfort, I grow my willpower. And thus, become more capable of creating the change I want to experience.
This is so important I will restate it: every time we keep going despite wanting to quit, we strengthen our willpower. The more powerful our desire to quit, the more our willpower grow when we choose to continue.
But this doesn’t mean we should push ourselves to the point of injury.
Discomfort Does Not Mean Injury
It’s important to note that facing discomfort can be painful, but it does not mean injuring ourselves.
In order to deliberately practice our willpower we need to know our limitations. For example, if you want to face the discomfort of running 10 km but you have never run 10 km in your life, I don’t advise you to do so on your first run ever. You’ll hurt yourself.
That’s why it’s important to develop willpower training gradually. We have to start at a level that is uncomfortable, while also being safe. That’s why coaches and personal trainers can be helpful, they can guide us to reach and identify our limits, so that we can then do so on our own without risking injury.
The same applies to any goal we want to achieve. I believe many people set out overly ambitious goals for themselves, particularly in fitness and weight loss. They push too hard and then hurt or demoralize themselves and give up. It’s not that they’re incapable of reaching their goals. It’s that they tried to change too much, too quickly.
Training willpower is exactly the same. We have to start with things that we can consistently handle. Challenges which edge us to our limits, without pushing us overboard to the point of injury.
Training Willpower Is A Habit
A habit is a routine you do automatically; it’s a predetermined solution to a problem you encounter regularly. Like driving to work; many people don’t need to think about the route they follow to get to work because it’s a habit for them to follow it.
According to a study by University College London, it takes around 66 days to make an activity into a habit. That’s how long it takes to deliberately practice a behavior until it’s imprinting in our neural circuitry and it becomes automatic.
All of the habits I wrote about above which train my willpower I adopted over a long period of time. I started with one, meditation. After that habit became ingrained I moved on to another habit and another and another. If I had tried to change too much, too quickly I certainly would have failed. In fact, I did fail a few times.
But every time I failed I tried again, at a level I could handle. I discovered my limits, without hurting myself. And slowly and surely I was able to install the habits, over the course of several years.
Yes, years. Building willpower is a long-term game. There are no shortcuts. There are tools we can use which can change our subconscious mind and makes making tough choices easier, read this article to learn about that. But even with these tools, we still need to make the choices to be uncomfortable consistently. It’s the only way we train our willpower.
Which is why it’s crucial to start as soon as possible!
Willpower Is A Resource
And like with any resource, it can be used up. This phenomenon is known as ego depletion. According to Sigmund Freud, the ego is that part of ourselves which holds our base desires in check and exerts self-control.
Ego depletion was first described in an experiment performed by Roy Baumeister in 1998. He asked participants to not eat chocolate and instead eat radishes. He then asked participants to perform cognitive tasks. Those who had exerted willpower to reject eating chocolate performed worse than those who hadn’t. He concluded that rejecting the reward of eating the chocolate drew on the participants’ energy reserves so they had less to work on the tasks.
Other activities which deplete the ego are:
- Making decisions
- Fatigue or exhaustion
- Emotional stress
- Prolonged focused attention
- Exerting initiative
This is why Steve Jobs used to wear the same outfit every day; a black turtleneck, jeans and sneakers. It removed another decision he had to make. This allowed him to have a greater store of willpower to make the important decisions he had to make every day as the head of Apple (Steve Jobs is a controversial figure, I understand. I believe we should take what works for us from any person/situation and leave what doesn’t).
This is also why most people make their lowest choices at the ends of their days. After a whole day of exerting our willpower, we have none left to resist the slice of chocolate cake or the bottle of beer.
That’s why it’s important to not only train our willpower but also to protect and rejuvenate it.
How To Protect And Rejuvenate Willpower
Anything that removes choices you have to make (or makes them easier) protects your willpower:
- Make as many routine choices as habitual as you can (Read Atomic Habits for more on this)
- Start your day with the hardest activity (Mine is exercise, after I do that everything is easier)
- Engineer your environment to have fewer temptations (don’t buy sugary foods and you won’t eat them, for example)
Anything that restores your energy also restores your willpower:
- Sleep – every day we wake up with a full tank of willpower
- Take relaxed walks
- Take breaks from your work
These are just some ideas I can come up with, maybe you can come up with more!
In Conclusion: Train Your Willpower And You Will Succeed!
I hope you have found this article informative. I can guarantee you that training our willpower to a diamond-like fortitude is one of the most rewarding experiences in life. We all are making choices every moment of every day. Imagine what power we unlock when we strengthen that part of us which makes the choices we know to be good for us!
By training our willpower we become capable of expressing our greatest potential. I invite you to apply the knowledge you have gained from reading this article as soon as you can! Knowledge without implementation is worthless. The smallest application is priceless next to the grandest of intentions.
So go out there and become a willpower warrior!
To our wealth and success.