Willpower, a word which has a constant use in our conversations, yet still obscure in its
actuality. Beyond all the myths and stigma, willpower is not something that occasionally
alleviates or declines or is naturally gifted as a strength to some people and weakness to others. I
know you must be wondering then what is it?
WHAT IS WILLPOWER?
To describe willpower in the shortest and most understandable terms, It is the ability to control
oneself and decisions that one takes in his day to day life. To avoid immediate pleasures and
delay gratifications in order to achieve long-term goals rather than short-term pleasures.
There has been much research conducted in this domain, but what I want to start with is the
In the year 1960, Mitchel and his team conducted an experiment with hundreds of children, aged
around 4-5 years. The experiment began by placing each kid in a private room with a
marshmallow placed on the table up front. Then it was told to them that those who waited for
another 15 minutes and decided not to eat the marshmallow will be rewarded with one more
marshmallow. Now, sitting in an empty room was a bunch of kids, struggling to fight their
immediate pleasure. At the end there were some who waited while others who couldn’t, but the
experiment didn’t end there but went on with the lives of those kids and after 40 years of
analysis, it was found that the kids who were able to delay immediate gratification got to do
better in their SAT scores, academic, and sports. They became more successful and held a higher
place in the dominance hierarchy as compared to kids with weaker willpower.
Now as interesting as “the marshmallow” experiment sounds, it does create new arguments and
questions to be answered like – the kids who exercised the ability to delay gratification, were
they naturally gifted and does this makes willpower an inherent gene?
WHAT SHAPES THE WILLPOWER?
To answer this question, we have to go back to the events before putting a marshmallow in front
of the kid. The researches decided to split the kids into two groups;-
- A GROUP WITH RELIABLE EXPERIENCES
In this group, the kids were promised to be given bigger sticker, better pencils, and more crayons
but it was a mere lie and they were not given anything in near future. This affected the
perception landscape of kids towards the world making it a portrait filled with the scam and
- A GROUP WITH RELIABLE EXPERIENCES
In this groups, kids were also promised a bigger sticker, a better pencil, and more crayons and
eventually given in the near future. The experience shaped the perception landscape of kids
towards the world in a more positive way, making the portrait trustworthy and credible.
Hence, the kids with strong willpower were not predetermined by their genes but rather the
environment surrounding them, shaping their belief and structuring their decisions.
WHY WILLPOWER DIMINISHES?
As we just saw, it’s the environment determining our level of willpower and structuring our
decisions, thereby a significant reason for the diminishing of willpower. Multinational
companies are quite familiar with this concept and they use it against you to influence your
decision-making process. For example, the sight of chocolate syrup melting on an advertisement,
the portrait of chocolate syrup (now at discount) on every other hoarding, the portrait of
chocolate syrup on the front page of the newspaper, even on your social feeds and a trending
topic on twitter makes it difficult for you to fight the temptation.
It has been well known that an individual can make his decision more clearly when not tired. A
sleep-deprived mind seeks for an easy tempting variable rather than the delayed gratification
leading to accomplishment of long-term goals. It has been found that there is a direct
relationship between sleep deprivation and diminished willpower. A tired mind is less likely to
utilize cognitive functions properly and make right as well as challenging decisions.
HOW TO DEVELOP WILLPOWER?
After understanding the mechanism and structure of how willpower works, we can apply a
certain scientific proven method to develop it and make it stronger.
– MAKE RITUALS
Am not talking about habits but rituals. You have to force yourself to be disciplined according to
the habit but on the other hand, forgoing to complete a ritual, makes your whole day feel empty
and senseless. Now, Rituals can be about anything varying from drinking the glass of water the
first thing in the morning or opting for heavy workout sessions, but what stays common is the
repetition, the constant striking of strings until it turns music and when it turns music, what
remains is magic.
Now, this techniques involves analyzing your temptations and noting it down point by point on a
piece of paper. It may include things such as eating a lot of sugar, watching excessive telly etc.
In short, the paper shall contain all the immediate impulses that you surrender to.
Next step is to create a vision in your mind of who you want to be in foreseeable future and what
all activities need to be undertaken in order to accomplish it. Pen down the things that you shall
be doing and elaborate in your mind their necessity. This may include activities like working out,
reading a book, being creative, etc.
The last step is to amalgamate your ‘immediate want’ behaviors with ‘delayed gratification
behaviors, For example – You will only watch telly while working out Or You will be allowed to
have sugar only after being productive for n number of hours each day. Through this technique,
you are not straining yourself and enjoying a bite of immediate impulses while aiming for long-
term objectives and a better future.
THE INEVITABLE RELAPSE
No matter how hard you try and beat yourself up, there will be days when your willpower
diminishes and you won’t be able to fight the temptations. The war is real and sometimes you
have to walk across the lost battles, but it doesn’t mean you lost.
Research has shown that missing a single day has no or next to negligible influence on the
accomplishment of long-term objectives. It has never been about the maximum speed you can
run across but the average speed you can maintain.
HOW TO DEAL WITH RELAPSE
The only way to deal with relapse is through the change of mindset. As already discussed, minor
failures are part of daily roadblocks and can be compensated by putting on more efforts and
getting back up. One of the most effective methods used to achieve this is -“if/then” method.
The whole method deals with seeing things as they are and being proactive. The method
emphasizes the value of compensation that can be put through after acting on your immediate
For example- If your ritual recommends you to wake up early and work out, always have a
proactive statement that if am unable to wake up early in the morning then I will workout at
KILL THE DECISIONS
It has always been romanticized about the infinite number of options and decisions available to a
human being but on the contrary, this decision-making process diminishes willpower. The more
decisions you take in a day, the less willpower you are left with. The decision can be major as in
relation to the bride you are going to marry or tiny as in the healthy breakfast you are going to
order, both affecting the willpower, alike.
Now, if I say killing the number of decisions will make your life better, you won't believe me.
On the contrary, you would regard this elimination of decision as a constraint to your liberty or
per say life path. But what I want to emphasize on is that these constraints are good for you, both
productively and creatively. The number of options available, the harder it is to make the right
decisions while on the other hand with limited resources, you can proceed with more surety and
– Constraining the time limit of your workout will motivate you to look forward towards the next
day and make it easier to be part of your rituals.
– Constraining the book to contain only 50 different words, Dr. Seuss was able to gift us with the
bestseller ‘Green Eggs and ham’
To conclude, willpower can make a significant impact on deciding the path where your life will
be heading. The Society is filled with a trap to blur your environment with evil temptations,
which has the ability to swallow your senses but what matters most at those time is your
awareness, your sense of being. The way you come back and fight again with those temptations
narrate you as a person. We often seek for an open road where we can find infinite possibility
but sometimes it is better to quest for a tunnel, narrowed down to one direction and promising
you with the desired destination.