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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.

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