Willpower: Self-control in One Lesson

Willpower Is A Superpower! When you're done reading this page, you will not only gain deeper insight of what willpower is, you might even reinforce your willpower.


WILLPOWER: Wiktionary defines willpower as "the unwavering strength of will to carry out one's wishes". In the end of the day definitions are just a bunch of words. But you didn't come here for definitions, now did you? Having willpower is what you really want, and the aim of this article is to help the dear reader, that's you, to gain more willpower. Image: Heavy squat requirements: Barbell, tons of weights and lots of strength. Prerequisite for strength: Willpower.

22. April 2024 by Click insider / Health & Fitness

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Willpower? This word, this concept, this thing... it can be be reduced to something silly stupid, or be seen as the complex thing it is.

But what exactly is willpower? This is where you'd normally read some lame definition. The long answer, however, is too long for most people. It's not something to be discussed in isolation.

Etymology of Willpower

Look. We need to talk about the word, the thing we refer to when we say wɪlˌpaʊɚ. Just enough, so that we can partially understand, in a faint and hazy way, what we're dealing with here.

The word willpower is itself unequivocal. Nothing etymologically esoteric, merely two words nonchalantly juxtaposing.

Willpower equals will plus power.

Now we have to define two words: WILL and POWER.

Easy! How hard can it be?! Define will and power? A simple task, boast the laymen. Define willpower? Smash the definitions of will and power together, and you've got yourself a dandy interpretation. Shut up!! For dilettantes, this is self explanatory!

"Will" is to self-control as "power" is to strenght! Done. End of discussion!

But wait! No, not so easy. No so fast, promulgated the philosophers and erudites.

Will power is to the mind like a strong blind man who carries on his shoulders a lame man who can see. -Arthur Schopenhauer

Goals and Willpowers

Willpowers (yes, plural) are not goals, and goals are not willpowers, but there is some kind of connection going on between the two.

So here's a goal for the both of us (for you, and for us):

When you're done reading this page, you will gain deeper insight into the willpower thing, whatever this thing is. Read on, and read carefully. By the end of this text, you've gained insight into willpower. That, or we completely ruined it, and you wasted your precious time.

Do you want to know who you are? Don't ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you. -Thomas Jefferson

You came here to learn about willpower

No, you didn't. You came here because you wanted more of it. More willpower. You greedy bastard.

Never mind learning about the essence of the thing. You just want more of it? Right? Rite?!?! But that's fine. The proof is in the pudding, if by the end of this read you've gained more of the thing, then success to both of us. If not, we both failed, i.e. a dual miscalculation, a binary glitch, a.. you get the point.

Conflicting Goals

If you want something, you will it. Untangle all of your competing inner wants, like if you want to eat chocolate, lots of it, and you'd also want to get fit/stay fit. That's a problem, and you have to choose between the two. You can't have your cake and eat it too. You can eat some chocolate and still be fit, just make sure all your goals are aligned. Life gets easier, much easier this way.

Imagine doing only what you'd want to do, all the time, while progressing. Life is a struggle, but less so if you have coordinated all your goals, ambitions, intentions, tasks, values, visions of the future.

I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion. -Muhammad Ali

McGonigal & The Willpower Instinct

Type "willpower" into Google, YouTube, any of the search engines and pretty soon you'll encounter Kelly McGonigal's book The Willpower Instinct.

If you have a hard time resisting chocolate bars (or any other willpower struggle), then this book is for you. There are nuggets inside, worth a read. Skim or skip the psycho-babble, random anecdotes and stereotypical self-help advice, and ignore the dated research references (an emblematic symptom of all modern litterature referencing modern scientific papers). The new gets old fast, i.e. the fast-forward properties of modern science yields much of contemporary research insignificant, inconsequential, negligible and just plain wrong. Just don't expect a tour de force treatsie on self-control.

A cardinal flaw of The Willpower Instinct is that it turns willpower into "science", but even the best books, the best people, the best anything aren't without flaws. They may be totally saturated with defects and foibles, but we accept all of their glitches and bugs, even welcome their faults, just so that we can appreciate the hidden gems, bullion treasures and be thankful for the rare nuggets they share with us and the world.

The book has been dubbed the Bible of Willpower, tons of five-star Amazon reviews; it's highly conceivable that this book will be a life changing read for some people. It contains "under the microscope" explanations (what's going on in the brain) and "willpower experiments" aiming to enhance the power over your will.

The development of willpower -I will, I won't and I want- may define what it means to be human. -Kelly McGonigal, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It

Some takeaways from The Willpower Instinct:

  • Temptation comes from within.
  • There's a "use it or lose it" rule to willpower.
  • Willpower isn't free. There's a cost (to your mind, body) and then there's the danger of too much of a good thing, too much self-control isn't necessarily a good thing.
  • Think values instead of "right" and "wrong".
  • Bad: Temptation, self-criticism, and stress, those are the the biggest enemies of willpower.
  • Good: Self-awareness, self-care, and remembering, those are three skills that matter.
  • Pay attention to gain self-control.
  • If you want something, you "will something".
  • Physiology of self control: Interference caused by anything stressful to mind or body.
  • Meditate. Meditate to learn, not to get lost in thoughts (it's not about getting rid of thoughts).
  • A preoccupied mind will be guided by impulses (which is bad for your long-term goals).
  • Procrastinating a lot? Don't be hard on yourself for procrastinating (because: more likely to procrastinate the next time). Substitute guilt with forgiveness to get back on track.

The book expands on stuff we all know from experience, but reminders does not hurt:

  • Sleep and relax. The importance of sleep should be clear to most, but constant reminders might help us achieve more of that healthy good sleep.
  • Feed yourself (correctly, by eating nuts, protein, veggies, the good fats, i.e. slow burning food) and maintain energy. Sugar makes it worse (causes surges and crashes).
  • Willpower "Reserves". Willpower is not a constant thing, it fluctuates, there are drains/gains.
  • Exercise is a wonder drug.
  • Meditate. And practice the breath.
  • If tomorrow, why not today?
  • Willpower is contagious (You are influencing as well as being influence by your people-connections and social interactions).

Bonus points for taking into consideration second order effects and even dwells into nth order effects. As when McGonigal mentions a possible problem concerning "green thinking", like carrying reusable shopping bags: What if this act makes you feel good about your "green actions", and you now have a licence to be bad in some way, as in halo effects, ignoring for a while the environmental impact of your actions. Willpower should not be masured in terms of morals. When you do something, don't think in terms of doing it because it give you permission to reward yourself, but instead think of the why of your actions.

Powerful ideas: Turning your "I won't" into "I will". Example: No more of those "I won't eat chocolate". Instead, try "I will only eat x meals today, and only allow healthy food to enter my body". Also, don't supress emotions and cravings (as it may backfire) but instead allow the feelings but just don't act them out. Perhaps easier said than done, but as revealed in the book: Willpower is like a muscle and you need to train it, use it or lose it.

The art of reading a book at the right time: The right time to pick up this book is when you're struggling with willpower, that's when you'd want to read The Willpower Instinct. More generally, in the words of Alain de Botton: “Most of what makes a book 'good' is that we are reading it at the right moment for us.

How Not To Eat A Chocolate Bar

Vive La Résistance! The French Resistance fought the occupation of the Nazis their and collaborationistas in WWII. The armed Maquis were intelligence providers, escape networks maintainers, saboteurs and Allied forces facilitators. This, and now chocolate. You were warned (the binary glitch thing).

The thing to realize is, that you don't have power over the chocolate bar. YOU DO NOT HAVE POWER OVER ANY CHOCOLATE. It's impossible.

You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength. -Marcus Aurelius

To resist the temptations of the outside world, you must exercise the innate ability to not eat chocolate. The peculiarity of determination defiance is ingrained in all of us. Say what? You've got some sort of idiosyncrasy of undesirable inclination propensity. Get it? There is no innate urge within yourself, no intrinsic adverse will in your mind, to eat more chocolate than your body can handle. Did that make sense? You sure? Because this is all fluff. Words. Blotchy bastard.


Next, watch as pixels transform into letters, letters morph into words, words emerges into sentences, and from sentences comes meaning, and this meaning give rise something tangible, useful, powerful as in willpowerful...

But first.. a short message from Voltaire:

Will is wish, and liberty is power.

Coming up after the break: How to gain Willpower In Real Life.

The more powerful and original a mind, the more it will incline towards the religion of solitude. -Aldous Huxley

[ Insert Your 2 Miute Reading Break Here ]

Q: Why?

A: Why why? Why take a break? You've been sitting too long!! That's why. Too much sitting is bad for you. Sedentary lifestyle is a silent killer. Take two minutes now, or better, take 10 minutes every hour, and do some stretching, turning, and bending.

Take a break, then skip the next paragraph, and begin reading from the next headline. Do NOT read the next paragraph. Seriously. Please don't. You've been warned.

DON'T READ THIS: This is important. Skip to next paragraph. Do not read this WARNING: Reading this will cause permanent loss of time. Why do you keep reading? This paragraph is pointless. Proin sapien mauris, gravida eu hendrerit in, lobortis sit amet dolor. You know, that Lorem ipsum thing, the one with the dolor sit amet, and the consectetur adipiscing elit. Told you. You just wasted time. Integer porta neque vel tortor vulputate ultricies. Why do you keep reading? Skip to next. This paragraph is CC0. Insert on any page. Free of charge no attribution required. You may even copy paste it ten times and it will still be free. Zero plus zero equals zero. These words are free. Fact: You're closer to death now than when you started reading this. Now move on.

Willpower IRL

Now comes the beef. Yes! This is what you've all been waiting for. The moment. The willpower moment.

Willpower is a complex thing. Self-control. Self-government Self-restraint. Self-discipline. Drive. Resolution. Substituting the word with another does not change the phenomena.

Reading motivational quotes on "success" will not magically induce willpower but it would be a mistake not to reflect on the nuggets of wisdom passed on from the sages, not all proverbs and aphorisms are to be neglected.

When the will is ready the feet are light. You've probably heard this, and even if you haven't, you've definitely experienced it. If you do something you actually want to do, the doing becomes so much easier. Willpower is just like that, nothing more than a willingness to do something.

Further, there's a difference between will and wishes. as the saying goes, great souls have wills; feeble ones have only wishes.

If you really don't want to do something, then why do you insist on doing it? Perhaps the urges aren't entirely pointless?

They can conquer who believe they can. He has not learned the first lesson is life who does not every day surmount a fear. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Even if we define willpower and self-control, it will still be idiosyncratic, that is peculiar to the individual. We're all distinct creatures, disparately wired. Some people enjoy peace and quite, others not so much, anecdotally:

'Willpower' is like trying to stop a grizzly bear with rocksalt. Very dangerous! ... The bear lives in the same meadow as you. You need to coexist. Study it, watch it's habits, know it, move around it, avoid it. Never, ever try to face it down, you'll just make it angrier. -ADHD redditor

Against Willpower?

You've read this far and you've had high hopes. You wanted to gain more willpower. Wait but why? Seriously, why? There's a case to be made against willpower. Yes, actually. Be careful what you wish for. A TLDR; of this would be: Willpower is poorly defined.

Willpower Is A Superpower

If you don't have it you can't know it. Only when you learn to truly control this thing, to gain power over the will, then you shall know what it is, what it does, and what it truly means to have willpower.

Willpower can be a superpower. Yes, really.

But having the will to resist chocolate won't turn you into superman or superwoman. There is more to the power of will than resisting temptation.

You will not be remembered for resisting the urge to eat unhealthy food, not drinking, not doing bad stuff. People write history when doing something exceptional, good or bad. Perhaps, to be exceptionally good you would need exceptional willpower?

How do we become our best selves, the best we can be? Rather, not how, but why would we be the best version of ourselves? Why this "achievement spree"? Perfection is unattainable, so why bother? Why just not be, and be happy?

You could be happy, live a very good life, and still not enter the books of history. You could be miserable and pathetic and still be remembered as the hero you weren't. Anything goes.

Chasing anything external migth be a flaw, a mistake: Fame, achievements, anything external. Yes, you will value some things outside of yourself, but just realize that there are extraneousities outside of your control.

Understand the value of your thoughts, at least reflect on this, even though none of us are capable of an unexpurgated understanding of anything of this world, including our internal world. By and large we're all clueless creatures. Your thoughts determine your actions, or not. Such views are simplified at best, and most likely plain wrong, or worse, as in not even wrong. There is no one-way relationship between thoughts and actions. Your actions will in turn influence your thoughts. Thoughts, what does that word even mean? It's a mess, and we really don't know much at all. And that is the bottom line.

Your life is an internal thing, subjective, intramural and isolated from the external universe. These two worlds are mutually inaccessible, yet they somehow interact in possibly counterintuitive processes we do not understand.

Counterintuitive, like chasing happiness resulting in unhappiness, seeking satisfaction in the wrong places.

I saw the angel in the marble and craved until I set him free. -Michelangelo

Q: Did We Just Waste Your Time?

A: Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted. Next time, ask the right question.

Congratulations. You've reached the end.

Okay. So this was weird! The End.

Lost time is never found again. -Benjamin Franklin

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