The Real Truth About Willpower

by Feb 2, 2015

It’s hard to believe that we are already into the second month of the year. Only a month ago we made new goals, and clanked our glasses to a fresh start. But what starts as fresh, can sometime turn stale, and it when the boredom of staleness settles in, you start to call on your willpower. But sometimes, it doesn’t show up. What’s up with that? Well if you want to know the real truth about willpower, then read on.

Not too long ago, I found myself reading Kelly McGonigal’s book called The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It. Kelly made an impression on me in a Ted Talks presentation on How to Make Stress Your Friend. Hearing her explain how stress, when channeled appropriately, can lead to greater outcomes, led me to read her book on willpower. Willpower is a trait that many of us dream, pray, or seek for. How do you say “I won’t” when every cell in your body is saying “I want”? Yet knowing that you have the tools you need at this very second to increase your willpower is liberating.


Our life can be dictated by impulses, rather than the use of conscious choices. It is easy to get caught up making one decision after another that do not support our end goals. If we let our impulses direct and lead our steps, then we are bound to end up in a place that we never thought we would be. The more you know about yourself, the more control you have over the choices that you make. In Kelly McGonigal’s words, “The best way to improve your self control, is to see how and why you loose control”.

“Self-knowledge is the foundation of self control” – Kelly McGonigal

Not only did this book help me with becoming more aware of myself, but it also allowed me to become more aware of the decisions that I make as an event planner too. It can be easy for event professionals to make quick impulsive decisions that makes our events turn out different from what we intended them to be.

What is Your Impulse?

Usually when we respond to our impulses, we have two thought processes. Immediate gratification, and delayed gratification. For example, in a busy month like February for event planning, we can do what we need to get by. Our impulses are to take the easier way out – take the first rate offered by a hotel or give the client exactly what they want. However, if we focus on that tiny whisper that asks us to negotiate, to consult with our clients further, we will get closer to the outcome that we intended when we visioned our event.

Becoming self-aware helps you to focus on the first sign of impulse so that you know immediately that you have to hone in to make a conscience choice. Now this doesn’t happen all the time, or can happen all the time. There will be sometimes were we just fall short. However by being self-aware, you can learn to pick your battles, so that you don’t make awful choices when they matter most.

Focus and Train the Brain

One of the big takeaways that I received by reading The Willpower Instinct is that we can train our brains how to have awesome willpower. How cool is that? You never think of willpower as a characteristic that can be built up, but it can. Having willpower is like having a muscle that you have to give a workout to often. You can practice building up your willpower by focusing on the task at hand, instead of letting your mind take over. We’ve all done it, working hard, focusing on the computer, and packing on the pounds by eating unnecessary calories. Focusing can help us notice what our actions and decisions are. People that mediate, pray, or some other form of centering have better self control, and make better choices than those that don’t.

Take a walk

I notice that when I’m tired and stressed out, my willpower is absolutely at zero. I’m not exercising, and I’m going straight to bed. However it has been proven that being tired and stressed out decreases our self-control. How can we change this? Get more rest for one. Being rested allows you to make better decisions, and in turn increases your willpower.

Eat Sugar

Kelly also proves in her book that sugar can help you increase focus and gain willpower. Bring on the candy bars! Well, not really. What is true is that low blood sugar levels can affect willpower. So, when you feel yourself a little lower on blood sugar, then a small sugary pick-me-up, might be the answer. In return your brain can remain focused to get you through the remainder of the day. For some reason, this made me think of our attendees at events, and how we schedule their snacks for the afternoon. Making sure there is a sweet snack (whether it be fruit or cookies) ensure your attendees get the boost they need to focus and get through the rest of your event!

Increase Your Willpower

There was so much in The Willpower Instinct that I would love to share, but I just can’t fit it all in this post. What I can do, is to share my key little “post-it’s” for increasing your willpower.

  • Become more aware of your impulses and separate your immediate response from your delayed response
  • Meditate, pray, do breathing exercises, or {insert your choice of centering here} for at least 15 minutes a day (mornings are best)
  • Remind yourself of your personal goals and agreement(s)
  • Respond to your situations with your end goals in mind

Have you read The Willpower Instinct? Enjoyed the post? Would love to hear about your willpower battles and how you have overcome them in the comments below!


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