Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Weight Loss & Diet Plans

Font Size

5 Surprising Facts About Willpower

By Joy Manning
WebMD Feature

If only you had more willpower, you would easily stick to your diet or exercise program, right? Nope.

It turns out you need a lot more than willpower to do things like that. It's not just about self-control. In fact, willpower might be the most misunderstood of virtues.

Once you get wise to how willpower works, you'll know how to use it, why it can go off the rails, and how to get it back on track.

What Is Willpower?

The American Psychological Association calls willpower "the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals."

Using willpower sometimes means not doing something, like skipping that second slice of cake you really want.

Or it may call for a delay, like having a cooling-off period before you buy something that wasn't in your budget.

Willpower can also be about taking positive action, like working out as you had planned, though you really don't feel like it.

These five truths about willpower will change how you think about and use this inner resource to help meet your goals.

1. Your willpower is like a piggy bank.

Just like dollars in your bank account, your willpower is in limited supply. On any given day, you should budget your willpower so you have it when it counts.

For example, if you plan to hit the gym after work, pack a lunch. You may not have the wherewithal to resist pizza for lunch and also work out on your way home.

One thing can lead to another -- in a good way. One of the best things about willpower, according to Marina Chaparro, RD, is that growing self-control in one area of your life leads to other positive changes.

“It changes the way you think. Once someone gets back to the gym, they may also start eating better,” Chaparro says.

2. Your willpower is like a muscle.

“Many people think you’re either born with willpower or you’re not,” Chaparro says. “But that’s not true. It’s actually like a muscle you can strengthen over time.”

You work out your willpower a little differently than you exercise your abs, but both routines require doing it over and over.

Setting small, incremental goals that you regularly meet is the best way to boost your willpower. Much like with your body, if you overdo it by taking on a bigger challenge than you’re ready for, you won’t get stronger. You’ll just be sore.

Today on WebMD

measuring waist
4 tips for shedding yours.
apple cider vinegar
Does it have health benefits?
 
Chocolate truffle
For weight loss, some aren’t so bad after all.
woman holding red dress
24 simple, practical tips.
 
woman shopping fresh produce
Video
butter curl on knife
Quiz
 
eating out healthy
Article
Smiling woman, red hair
Article
 
thumbnail_woman_tossing_spinach
Video
lunchbox
Article
 
What Girls Need To Know About Eating Disorders
Article
teen squeezing into jeans
fitfor Teens
 

Special Sections