The subject of willpower is fascinating. Why can some people make a goal or resolution and stick to it no matter what, while others quickly fall by the wayside?
I have studied this subject for twenty years. I am also proud to report that one of my first books, The Skinny on Willpower: How to Develop Self-Discipline, is becoming one of Amazon's top sellers.
And so, I think I have some answers to the above question:
1. Some people are raised with a positive-outcome mindset. They believe if they do X, Y will occur. As a result, these people will exercise willpower - whether it means taking or refraining from action - that connects them to their goals. Others don't have the same faith in positive outcomes and so are not so willing to sacrifice X for the possibility of Y.
2. Some people fool themselves. They think they're committed to an outcome but in reality are only committed IF that path is not too arduous. Others prepare for adversity and are thereby better equipped to deal with stress and distraction when it (almost inevitably) appears.
3. Some people make specific goals. Studies have shown that the more specific you are in stating goals, the more likely you are to find the resolve to achieve them.
4. Some people understand that exercising willpower is fatiguing, so they pick their spots. Researchers have proven that we all have fixed quantities of resolve. As a result, we need to refill our willpower tanks periodically. So, for example, it's not a good idea to begin a diet when you have just finished a large, difficult project. Give yourself some time off.
5. Some people build their willpower with progressive, incremental exercises. This is a big topic in psychology research right now: the analysis of how people can build their willpower "muscles." So far, the research shows that by slowly challenging yourself to increasingly more difficult challenges, you can increase your ability to exercise willpower as and when you need it.
By the way, although psychologists are presently fascinated with strengthening one's willpower with progressive challenges, here's a quote I found from a book written in 1899:
"Self control may be developed by precisely the same manner as we tone a weak muscle, by little exercises day by day. Let us do each day...a few acts that are disagreeable to us, the doing of which will help us in instant action in our hour of need." - The Kingship of Self-Control, William George Jordan
I intend to write more about willpower and self-discipline in future posts because I subscribe to the words of Teddy Roosevelt: "With self-discipline, all things are possible. Without it, even the simplest goal can seem like the impossible dream."
What mental exercises do you use to improve your willpower?