Understanding Willpower

Willpower is the key to success. Successful people strive, no matter what they feel, by applying their will to overcome apathy, doubt or fear.                         — Dan Millman

Runners begin a long race in this Marathon in the PhilippinesThe runners shown in the pictures are participating in a marathon in the Philippines. All over the world, runners challenge themselves by preparing for and participating in races like this one. The preparation and the race itself both require a huge amound of willpower.

Why do they run? Certainly there are some, a very small group of elite runners, who might run to win the awards including money. For most of the runners, they run to challenge themselves. Their main goal isn’t winning but making it to the finish line. Many hours after the winners have crossed the finish line, the crowds continue to cheer for the stragglers, those that end up walking the last few miles with blistered feet but who refuse to give up. This is determination. This take self-control and willpower.

All of these words  describe a person’s power to work toward a goal, to work without giving up,and  to resist temptation.

How would you rate your own level of willpower?

Level one people complain that they just can stick to a diet, they can’t improve their grades, or they can’t stop smoking because they have absolutely no willpower.

Level two people believe they have willpower. They bravely declare their intentions to do something, but never seem to do anything more than talk about it.

Level three people make a decision and start out  work hard to accomplish their goal. But they often give up. Perhaps  it was just too much work. Perhaps they were afraid they would fail and decided to give up rather than fail. Perhaps there were temptations that were hard to resist. They generally have a reason for giving up. They were trying to do too much at once. They had personal problems to deal with. They plan to try again later when it’s a better time.

Level four people make decisions and stick with them. They stick to fairly easy goals, goals they feel pretty certain they can reach. They might set a goal of losing five pounds instead of the twenty-five pounds they really want to lose,.

Level five people aren’t afraid to make bold decisions, knowing they might fail. But when these people make a decision, they work at it until they succeed. If they fail, they they try again and again. They stubbornly refuse to give up.

Do we even need to ask which of these people is most likely to succeed in college, most likely to find the job they want, most likely to have a successful marriage?

Are we  born with willpower? Is it genetic? Did we learn it from our parents? If so, why does one child in a family seem to have strong willpower, while the other children do not?

In recent years, there have been a number of interesting experiments in this area. One fascinating experiment on willpower involved offering marshmallows to four-year-old children. Would they eat one marshmallow right away or wait a while and earn a second one. This funny little experiment turned out to have amazing implications.

Children and Marshmallows

Further Research: Can we Increase our Willpower?

Six Simple Steps to Increase Willpower (blog)

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