Understanding the Psychology of Willpower to Change Your Life
Willpower is one of those concepts that touches on a lot of different aspects of life, but may be hard to explain precisely without some careful thought. Willpower is complex. The practice of willpower is based on physical traits and traits of habit – nature and nurture. It can be learned and forgotten. All of us have a natural capacity for willpower, but with practice we can change it completely. There are many methods to improve willpower, but each requires a change of mind. We’ll cover just a few of the ones that science and tradition have identified.
1) Meditation. There are many different traditions of meditation, but all of them help people achieve new levels of intentional focus. One tradition of meditation can be described as the practice of controlled thinking. Lots of up aren’t in control of our thoughts. Thoughts and feelings come and go, willy nilly. We’re at the mercy of our mind’s whims. Meditation gives us the opportunity to slow down and do nothing but manage our thoughts. One form asks the practitioner to sit quietly and just think about his or her breath, actively managing each inhalation and exhalation. As thoughts intrude, they are set aside and the attention is returned to the breath. With practice, the practitioner becomes an observer of his or her thoughts, not a prisoner of those thoughts. Results can be seen in just 3 hours, and after 11 hours physical effects can be observed in the brain.
2) Exercise. In many ways, exercise is like meditation for the physical body. It’s taking the body through intentional routines to build its strength and agility, rather than allowing the body to take the path of least resistance. As the body strengthens, it can become easier for the mind to do its part, as it will be built on a system that is working properly.
3) Diet. Diet is the same. Not only is it a practice of will to select foods that are healthy, these nutritious foods are also fuel for the will. The role of blood sugar and body nutrition in willpower has been observed by scientists for many years. But when a person can experience the difference for himself or herself, it’s a reward that makes it easier to keep going.
4) Biofeedback. As these practices become routine parts of life, the body and mind will start to notice the rewards. This is known as biofeedback – the body being conscious of itself. As your body begins to learn what is good for it (perhaps after never experiencing it for many years), it will naturally want what is good. When our minds aren’t honed, we can’t act with strong willpower. When we are in the habit of seeking out good things to run our bodies and minds on, we will naturally gravitate toward those things.
It takes time to unlearn bad habits and initiate new ones. But this is the key to building meaningful willpower. It’s a psychology built upon physical behaviors, and physical behaviors driven by psychological intention. Nature and nurture both have an indispensable role here, but intention and practice can bring about a stronger willpower with the practice.