Willpower must be maximized in order for us to achieve anything great. This is done by focusing on things that matter, prioritizing our time, and kicking out energy sucks.
Read time: 11 minutes
“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from indomitable will.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
In his lifetime, Gandhi lived a life of pure willpower.
He abstained from sex.
He abstained from eating meat.
He abstained from eating anything at all at certain points.
He did this for a higher purpose.
In his case it was for political and social reasons.
He succeeded in making a change and becoming the face of a movement by pure will driven by a deep desire to change the world.
Now I’m not saying we should all be Gandhi’s and try to make some radical changes in the world (or should we?), but what I am saying is that we can use some principals he used to effectively take control of our lives, our bodies, and our situations by using our minds and finding strength by focusing our willpower.
Above: Mahatma Gandhi showed pure willpower during his lifetime.
Note: this article may seem kind of “woo woo”, but this is because willpower and mental energy are not tangible things we can measure, say like glycogen in the muscles or how many calories running three miles burns. I write how I see the world as I learn more and more about it, and this post is no different. Let me know how you see the world, contact me or leave a comment below!
What is the Will, and What is Willpower?
We’re all humans with free will, which means we make decisions based on choices on a regular basis.
Will can be construed a couple different ways.
The dictionary has a couple of good definitions:
Will is a faculty in which we decide on or initiate action. This is having the will to do something.
Will can also be directed to restrain ones own impulses, as in keeping discipline and avoiding temptation.
Will is also intending, wishing, or trying to do something with the exercise of mental powers, the desire for something to happen and to bring it to fruition. This is willing yourself to a certain goal or outcome, or a higher purpose.
Willpower is putting the will to work for us and flexing the power of the will, one of the strongest forms of energy humans possess.
According to the same good ol’ dictionary, a simple definition of willpower is energetic determination.
Not a very satisfying definition, and very dry, so here’s mine.
Sonny says willpower = focused and deliberate mental energy that determines overall effort and in-turn outcome.
Willpower is us as humans using power of the will.
Having strong willpower is a superpower, because when it comes to getting things done, willpower is king, as motivation won’t always be there.
Motivation is tricky.
Motivation shouldn’t be solely relied upon to reach goals.
In certain situations you must use energy and focus your willpower and will yourself to do something, or even not to do something (which is sometimes called “won’t-power”).
This can be based on short term goals, as in getting up early and going to the gym every morning, or long term goals, such as gaining 20 lbs of muscle over a years time.
In either case you must maintain this willpower to achieve your goals.
The willpower energy you have to execute decisively is tied to daily energy levels.
This is mental energy or brainpower.
Exercising the will requires tremendous amounts of energy that can be depleted quite quickly.
Since willpower requires energy, it is a finite resource throughout the day, and must be harnessed and prioritized to maximize productivity. But, like a muscle, it can also be built up and made stronger and made able to be used longer.
Willpower and The Primal Brain
Willpower is also something that’s getting weaker and weaker in individuals today because of the conflict of the modern world and how we’re wired for survival.
Doing things to ensure our survival back in the day meant minimizing risk and behaving in a way that maximized reward.
Our instincts tell us to run away form danger, and this was for good reason in the past.
Back in the past there was real danger.
Our instincts also tell us to gorge on sugar and fat, because back in the day this was in short supply, and you didn’t know when you would come across a good calorie dense food source again (this is also where fat storage comes in handy for prehistoric man).
The primal brain (which is still relatively the same today as 10,000 years ago) is wired for survival, safety, and instant gratification.
We can’t be mad at this, we can’t damn it or curse it, and we can’t change it, it’s how we survived thousands of years in the harshest of environments.
But these days it does us a huge disservice.
There’s not so much danger.
Today’s world is relatively safe and benign.
Sugar and fat are in abundant supply.
We have energy dense foods at our beck and call pretty much 24/7.
Our natural primal instincts have gone haywire.
What do you get when these two forces mix? Obesity and related conditions and diseases. Broken homes. Depression. Dissatisfaction.
What you see is the product of the primal brain in the modern world.
We therefore need stronger willpower than ever before to combat stuffing ourselves into oblivion, indulging in excess like gluttons, living boring lives in dull comfort, and to avoid temptation of instant gratification that comes with the capitalist consumer lifestyle.
Focused willpower shatters comfort, safety, glutton, and doing things the easy way.
Your willpower can work to help you avoid the temptation of short-term gratification for something bigger, better, and more meaningful down the line.
It tells our primal brain to shut up and do it the hard way, do it right, or don’t do it at all.
Do the work.
Take the risk.
Avoid the temptation.
Make better decisions.
Above: The primal brain would have come in handy during this period of time. Not so much today. (By Frank Gilbert)
Decisive Energy: Becoming Aware of What We Decide
When it comes down to it, we are what we decide to do, and each decision takes energy to make.
The problem with energy, as said earlier, is that it is a finite resource throughout the day.
You only have so much in your waking hours until you recharge with sleep.
Since it’s such a finite resource, we need to be smart with our energy and not waste it on stupid things.
This is where good decision making, prioritization, and not stretching yourself too thin comes into play.
Each day is made up of hundreds of tiny decisions, some medium sized decisions, and a few big ones.
Even if you don’t think you’re making a decision, you probably are, from what to eat and drink to it’s the outcome of these decisions that determine the direction of our life.
Good decisions can be mostly made by following our rituals and focusing our willpower and striving to achieve our goals. Getting up early every day, setting your schedule, setting daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals, getting to the gym, to the track, or out on the trail, packing healthy meals, and so on are things we can focus our willpower around.
Willpower (“won’t-power”) can also keep you from making bad decisions, like grabbing a donut (or three) when you’re trying to lose fat, spending money freely on things you don’t need when you’re in debt, skipping a weight workout when you’re trying to build up some muscle, or saying you’ll just “do it later”.
Categorizing What You Focus Your Willpower On
What’s important to you?
What do you want to achieve?
It’s best to pick 2-3 things you want to focus on and give those your undivided attention at certain points during the day when your energy levels and will power is at it’s greatest.
What is our end goal?
First and foremost, we need to determine what our end goals is for any task. The end goal must in some any way, shape, or form be meaningful to us so there is an emotional investment, and also bring us closer to total happiness and fulfillment.
Things we say yes to
These are the things that bring us closer to our end goal. You must carefully choose the things you say yes to and make sure they bring you towards your goals. Find out what these are and do more of them at better times.
Things we say no to
These are things we exercise “won’t-power” on (although won’t-power is just using willpower to avoid temptation). These are the things that don’t bring us closer to our goals. These are time-wasters, waist-line expanders, and happiness and fulfillment busters. Look at these as treacherous obstacles beckoning and calling you to come and waste your precious energy. There’s an old tale about The Sirens, from Homer’s “The Odyssey”. These Sirens would lure ships with their song and lead them to wreck on the rocks. Think of these things as sirens, exercise your won’t-power and avoid. (See: Staying Away From Things That Sap Our Willpower, below)
“Come this way, honored Odysseus, great glory of the Achaians, and stay your ship, so that you can listen here to our singing; for no one else has ever sailed past this place in his black ship until he has listened to the honey-sweet voice that issues from our lips; then goes on, well-pleased, knowing more than ever he did; for we know everything that the Argives and Trojans did and suffered in wide Troy through the gods’ despite.” From Homer’s “The Odyssey” (12.184-196)
Building Up the Willpower Muscle
Willpower, much like a muscle, can be hypertrophied and made stronger through constant use and a few tactics.
Eat right. Eating right has so many benefits and helping you perform better physically, as well as mentally is one of the biggest. Good food is packed with nutrients that boost brain health, performance, and mitigate the effects of aging. Go for colorful fruits and veggies, lean meats, and complex carbs, all from the earth and not made in a lab.
Exercise. Exercise is extremely important for physical as well as mental health. Exercise outdoors is meditative, and can relieve stress, anxiety, worry, and help you clear your mind of negative thoughts. The principle a sound mind in a sound body applies here. Build your body, and the mind will follow.
Have a routine and rituals. A routine will take the guesswork out of small daily decisions, freeing up willpower for bigger, more important ones. For small, daily things, you want to be on autopilot. This is where planning ahead becomes important. We also want rituals that prime and prepare us for the day or the work that’s ahead. Check out Victor Pride’s 3C Morning Routine here. The 3C’s are his morning ritual, and according to Pride: “The 3 C’s boost mood, boost metabolism, increase well being, increase mental clarity… and they wake your sleepy ass up and make you feel good.” Which is how we start off the kick ass way.
Caffeine (or other legal stimulants like Yerba Mate). Caffeine can help you focus and provide a boost in mood. Loss of focus kills willpower and stretches you too thin, leading to paralysis by analysis or half-assed work. Doing one thing with your full ass is better than doing multiple things half-assed.
“Never half ass two things. Whole ass one thing.”
– Ron Swanson
Sleep! There are no benefits to getting little sleep, and sleep can help you produce more in your waking hours by keeping your willpower as strong as an ox. Do not skimp on sleep, get 7-9 hours a night (based on your own individual needs).
Actively exercise willpower. This can be done by just doing the things you don’t want to do that bring you in a positive direction and diving into them head first, and also resisting things that are easy or that provide lower pleasures. The more you dive head first into tasks you don’t want to do the more willpower you will build. This can be done with little things (i.e. the cold shower) or big things (i.e. just going in and asking for something you want). Both should be done regularly to strengthen willpower.
Kill procrastination. Procrastination and willpower do not mix, and killing procrastination will boost willpower, while letting procrastination creep in will destroy any willpower you have. Don’t let things build up by putting them off. Do it now.
Staying Away From Things That Sap Willpower
This is huge.
Too many people waste time on things that don’t matter, sapping precious energy and willpower.
What we need to do is eject these Sirens calling to us from our lives.
Here are some of the biggest energy and willpower sucks that appeal to lower urges:
Social media, TV, and video games. Wasting your time on social media (if not for business), watching TV, and playing video games is a huge drain on your valuable time and mental energy. As for social media, outside of your very tight circle, you shouldn’t give a damn what others are thinking or doing. You just can’t keep track of all the BS, so stay away! “Likes” also stimulate the pleasure centers of our brains and release dopamine, causing addiction. Yes, you can get addicted to social media, much like drugs (see below). TV and video games are just huge wastes of time and are tremendous time sucks. They’re easy to do, and also easy to waste huge chunks of your precious day. Throw out your TV and game consoles, or better yet, trade them in for books.
Negative people. Negative people are draining. Negativity is one of the biggest energy sucks in the world. Have you ever had a good idea, and shared it with a negative person? Here’s the thing, people with negative attitudes and negative energy need to drain your energy to bring you down to their level. Stay far away from negativity if you want to have a chance.
Drugs and alcohol. Drugs and alcohol hijack our brain and decrease willpower, in-turn decreasing performance. Drugs and alcohol provide a huge dopamine hit and target reward centers of the brain… without actually accomplishing anything to get that hit! This is why drug users and alcoholics are constantly using, and this is why drugs and alcohol are so prevalent, weak-willed individuals want something for nothing (there’s that primal brain again). Drugs are an escape from reality. Stay away from these energy vampires. GET HIGH ON SUCCESS AND ACCOMPLISHMENT.
Unplanned and haphazard scheduling. Sleeping too late, deciding what to do last minute, deciding what to wear, deciding where to eat, when to call, or how to do this or how to do that and other unimportant things kills willpower and are not for the person of action. Have these things thought out and planned ahead and scheduled to avoid wasting precious energy on them.
Masturbation. Kills willpower. Kills motivation. Channels sexual energy into something unproductive. Keep it to a minimum. Harness your sexual energy into willpower to live better, and with purpose.
Junk diets. Sh*tty food makes you feel like sh*t, and kills energy levels. Insulin spikes caused by refined carbs and sugar causes highs and lows, sending your energy levels on a roller coaster ride. Use foods that will create sustained energy and that will prime your mind for strength and success. Veggies, fruits, complex carbs, and lean meats are best.
Negative emotions. Negative emotions such as anger, frustration, hate, fear, and jealousy are incredibly draining, These emotions for the most part accomplish nothing, but are incredibly easy to feel and get lost in. As with negative people, actively kick out negative thoughts, and in turn negative emotions and give yourself a chance.
Note: on the flipside, positive emotions such as excitement, triumph, gratitude, and contentment can energize you. These emotions can be maximized by thinking positive thoughts and finding things that bring you happiness.
Will is your mind by way of mental energy telling your body to physically do something.
Willpower is us humans using the will to power ourselves to an outcome.
Willpower is a finite resource which is drained through out the day, little by little with each decision we make, and this is why prioritization and selective attention is key.
With this being said, willpower is also like a muscle that can become stronger with practice.
You can actively build and strengthen your willpower to take more good risks and do more grinding, uncomfortable, and/or painful work that brings you to your goals.
Any questions or comments? Do your thing!
Featured Photo: Ungry Young Man, via Flickr (modified by author)
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