Does Willpower Work?

By Morgan Blair – MA, Intern 

verified by Psychology Today

What is willpower? 

Individuals who exhibit high levels of willpower are able to better regulate emotions, control impulses, and achieve long or short term goals. So, what is willpower exactly? The American Psychological Association (APA) took a look at many different researchers studies on willpower and came up with these four definitions:

  • The ability to delay gratification and resist short-term temptations to meet long-term goals. 
  • The capacity to override an unwanted thought, feeling, or impulse
  • The conscious effortful regulation of the self, by the self
  • A limited resource that is capable of being depleted

Why does willpower matter?

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

Synonyms to willpower would be words such as determination, drive, self-control, self-discipline – all of which are traits needed in order to be successful in life.  Willpower is the ability to resist short-term temptations in pursuit of long-term goals. It is the key to being able to follow through in making changes or completing tasks in one’s life. 

How do we obtain willpower?

Psychologist Catrina Lino has some tips on how to channel willpower in pursuit of being the best version of ourselves. Here are 4 ways to improve willpower:

  • Improve your self-awareness

Any behavior that you aren’t aware of is much harder to manage.

Self-awareness is the ability to recognize what we are doing as we’re doing it. Our thought processes, emotions, and reasons for acting are an important part of making better choices” (Catrina Lino).

  • Meditate 

Don’t over-complicate this step towards better willpower. Meditation can be as simple as pausing and taking three deep breaths that recenter your mind to the present moment.

  • Movement

Make sure to incorporate some type of physical movement into your daily life. Make it something enjoyable, that allows you to connect with your body, and release any physical tension that you may be storing up over the course of the day. 

  • Relax 

Take time each day to give yourself space where you can do something relaxing. Relaxation is any activity that brings your heart rate back to its resting rate. 


 Channeling your willpower does not have to be overly complicated. Simply adding in those four steps to your weekly routine will help to center your mind and body. By becoming more grounded we are then more apt to make decisions aligned with our goals and desires for our future. 

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