How to strengthen willpower?

Jul 10, 2024

Have you ever struggled to keep going when the going gets tough?

Have you ever felt as though your strength of mind is letting you down?

Do you find it hard to get into the ‘right mindset’ with regards to weight loss?


The most common reason why we see people being unable to stick to a lifestyle change is always blamed on mindset, willpower or motivation (or all three).

 The good news is that mindset, willpower and motivation are actually skills. It is not a matter of ‘having it’ or ‘not’.


What is willpower?

We think of willpower as the ability to resist something negative

Or the ability to stick with something positive

Willpower is a state of conflict, you want to do something but at the same time you know you shouldn’t


What do I need to know about willpower?

The conflicting drives are governed by two different areas of the brain.

Imagine being faced with a brocoli vs a donut. This information will go to two parts of the brain

There’s the cool system (the prefrontal system.) This area of the brain is involved with rational, planning and intentional thinking. This is the part that knows your on a diet and knows you shouldn’t be eating the donut.

There’s also the hot system; the deeper emotional, limbic system. This area makes decision that are connected to emotion, and more closely linked to your subconscious brain.


The problem is that the hot system is much more fast acting than the cool.

The hot system usually wins meaning you have a gut reaction before the rational brain has had a chance to think.

The pursuit of cool system is what’s called willpower.


The willpower tank

There is a finite amount of willpower everyone has in one day.

It can be used up on all manner of things; patience with a relative, resisting choice of food, trying not to shout at a customer, resisting the urge to tell someone off.



They all come from the same ‘tank;’ you do not have one for each activity; like one for dieting, one for exercising and another for being nice to family!

This becomes important when you realise that doing two things at once decrease the chance of the other. For example, overhauling your diet and starting a new exercise regime will deplete the stores quicker than for those who are just focussing on getting breakfast right.

Someone who tries to give up alcohol and smoking at the same time is more likely to fail. It increases the chance of a relapse. And it’s not surprising that it’s something else that causes them to fail in the argument

Chronic pain leaves people with a perpetual shortage of willpower because they’re minds are so preoccupied with the struggle to ignore the pain.


How to replenish willpower:

People think of it as a character trait but it isn’t

There are two ways of replenishing your willpower supply: sleep and Glucose!


Neither of these are ideal for many of us! A daytime nap, whilst ideal for replenishing the willpower tank is likely not possible for many. But it does however, emphasise the importance of sleep, and prioritising this as much as possible.


And Glucose; well reaching for the sugar anytime willpower is low is the last thing that will help the waist line! But it is helpful to know why you crave sugar in the evening when the willpower tank is likely to be at its lowest. It’s useful to know that when you are depleted from a busy day at work; there’s a reason why only chocolate will do.


Avoiding willpower depletion

The most obvious tactic here is strengthening resiliance (please see other blogs on self-control and decision fatigue) and also avoiding depletion in the first instance.


Here’s a few points that will help you keep that willpower tank levels high throughout the day:


  1. **Prioritize Sleep**: Ensure you get adequate rest each night. Quality sleep helps replenish cognitive resources and improve self-control.


  1. **Healthy Diet**: Maintain balanced nutrition. Avoiding fasting if you are stressed out/have a lot going on (please note normally I’m a big advoicate of fasting, but there are periods when this can make stress worse) Low carb foods will be better at avoiding the drastic shifts in Glucose.


  1. **Manage Stress**: Practice stress-reduction techniques like meditation, deep breathing, or yoga to conserve mental energy and enhance willpower.


  1. **Break Tasks into Smaller Steps**: Dividing larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps makes them less daunting and reduces the strain on willpower.


  1. **Establish Routines**: Create and stick to daily routines. Automating repetitive tasks reduces the need for constant decision-making, saving willpower for more complex decisions. The more mundane your days, the more your brain thrives!


  1. **Stay Hydrated**: Drink plenty of water. Dehydration can impair cognitive function and reduce willpower.


As with most things in life: practice makes perfect, and willpower is no exception!


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