Bringing your willpower to bear

Bringing your willpower to bear

by Eunice Chua 08 Feb 2020

What do you attribute your achievements to? For most of us, it’s not pure talent and luck but a whole lot of effort and diligence. At the core of our success is often what we call “willpower”, which is the ability to motivate yourself to do something that helps you reach your goals or hold yourself back from doing something that will hinder your progress. However, there’s a darker side to associating success with willpower – when we fall short of our goals and blame our failure on our lack of it. This is why success cannot only be about achieving goals; strengthening your willpower should be a focal point instead of an afterthought.


What is willpower, really?

Having greater willpower starts with really understanding what willpower is about. Psychologists define it as a trait that can be inculcated and trained, rather than something we are born with. Willpower exists in the brain’s pre-frontal cortex which is associated with the logical and rational side of our personality. The other side of our personality is called the primal side because it’s the side that is responsible for impulse decisions and instinctive urges – this side doesn’t always make sensible choices that are in line with our goals but focuses on short-term satisfaction instead. The fact that willpower is largely a cognitive trait means that we can train it to work in our favour.


Building up your willpower

You can strengthen your willpower by training your ability to motivate yourself to do things that are beneficial for you and refrain from doing things that aren’t – this is addressing the very definition of willpower itself. To train your ability to set a goal and follow through, consider employing meditation. When you meditate (even for five or 10 minutes), you are responding to a goal and putting in the effort to meet your targets. The act of meditation itself trains you to be mindful and focused – keeping your mind at peace and consciously pushing aside disruptive thoughts is a practice of willpower. Scientific research has also shown that meditation helps to strengthen the parts of the brain responsible for willpower, so there’s definitely benefits to be had. In short, regular meditation helps you to harness your willpower to achieve your goals.


Putting it to practice

Willpower can be used to facilitate measured responses well as empower action. Restraint can be practiced by constantly reminding yourself to stop and breathe before taking action whenever troubles arise. When we face a difficult task, our mind automatically responds by either fighting back or turning away – it’s an emotional response from the primal side of our brain. To train your willpower, focus on the “how” instead of the “what”. Think about how taking a course of action will affect you and those around you. Consider how you would actually go about pursuing said course. Is this what you think is best for your situation? Pause, breathe deeply and make a decision only when you’re calm.


Our minds are our greatest tools in helping us attain self-improvement and satisfaction. Willpower forms the backbone of our mental strength and the great thing is you don’t have to be content with what you have – there's always room for improvement! Training one's willpower doesn't have to involve any spectacular feats of mental gymnastics, not when kicking things off with some reflective silence and deep breaths work perfectly fine.