Willpower can be a tricky subject. It’s the invisible energy source we draw on to have the strength to achieve the tangible things we want in life. The word “willpower” is often utilized in the context of healthy eating or fitness.
Still, it can apply to virtually any achievement we desire and, according to research, is not that invisible at all. Or at least, it’s not unobservable.
Willpower is defined as the ability to resist short-term gratification caused by unwanted impulses to achieve a long-term goal. Physiologically, it’s very similar to a stress response in the body. While stress is a response to a threat, willpower is a response to an internal conflict.
But is there an infinite well of willpower within us, or are we vulnerable to running out of it? And how can we maximize it to achieve our goals?
Is Willpower a Limited Resource?
As it turns out, we can observe specific biological responses that demonstrate that willpower can be depleted. The American Psychological Association compiled various studies that examined these changes.
One study conducted at the University of Toronto found that the anterior cingulate cortex, the area of the brain responsible for impulse control and decision-making, showed a decrease in activity when subjects’ willpower was depleted.
On the other hand, other similar studies those to look at the brain exerting energy while exerting willpower and found that introducing glucose into the bloodstream gave subjects a boost in willpower strength.
From a psychological perspective, though, it seems that longer-lasting willpower was the result of a good mood and achieving a goal that was personal to the individual, as opposed to someone pursuing a dream that was not indeed theirs.
In other words, self-discipline comes from staying true to yourself.
What’s Your Motivation?
Pursuing any goal involves determination, time, effort, and a willingness to deal with the consequences of failure every once in a while. Because of this, you must ask yourself why reaching this particular goal is meaningful to you.
A valuable piece of advice would be to write down your motivation somewhere where you can see it every day and remind yourself what you’re fighting for. While support from others is essential, only you truly motivate yourself to succeed, and this technique is how you’ll reignite the fire within you every day.
Set a Clear Goal
The more specific your goals are, the easier it will be to visualize the finish line. “Success,” for example, is far too broad a goal to know when you’ve met it. While it’s perfectly acceptable to have big dreams, it can also become a hindrance when you don’t have measurable steps to achieve them.
Start with small steps you can accomplish in the short term, and before you know it, you’ll begin to see the bigger goal appear within reach. This will also help you avoid willpower depletion as well.
Build a Support System
While your motivation for achieving your goals must come from you first, it goes without saying that whenever we are confronted with change, it’s doesn’t hurt to be surrounded by people who want to see you succeed.
Try having a serious conversation with those most important to you about how important your goals are to you, especially with those who might impede your progress.
If not, there’s no harm in finding like-minded individuals yourself. Try searching for online communities full of people on a similar journey to yours, for instance.
Make a Concrete Plan
Once you’ve set a clear goal for what you want, you’re going to want to draft up the specific steps you’ll need to get there and get started as soon as you’re able to. Having it all written out in front of you in black and white will leave little room for doubt as you begin your adventure.
Still, remember that “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”, in the words of John Lennon, so forgive yourself if you stray from the path every once in a while. We’re all human, after all.
The recommendation to remain consistent is not as severe as it may seem. It’s more the sentiment that consistency should remain constant over a long time while considering that mishaps are likely to occur along the way.
The motive for analyzing the biological and psychological implications of willpower was to understand that it is a natural human response.
As we all know, natural human functioning can be pretty faulty at times, but as long as you get back up right after you fall, success is inevitable.
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