I had a conversation about exercising and going to the gym (regularly) with a work friend recently and we started discussing the topic of willpower. The reason so many people seem to fail at goals like eating healthy, going to the gym, and stop smoking seem to boil down to a lack of willpower. As we talked about the apparent laziness we all struggle with we came to a few more conclusions. Now, most of these conclusions I’ve already read about (a lot) and I have to admit most of these are nothing new to me, and this perhaps is why I believe I have a slight advantage above the average person.

Motivational speakers and guru’s will all tell you exactly how you need to prioritize your goals, write it down, list thew benefits of achieving your goal, stop being lazy, make it a habit and assist in achieving what you set out to. There’s nothing wrong with any of this but perhaps I can break it down based on my own understanding and experience:

It is not easy to start something (or stop) like a classic new years resolution. Let’s take quit smoking and start eating healthy. I believe in order to achieve any goal that requires regular attention, time, effort and dedication one requires a healthy dose of willpower. Willpower may be the most overlooked talent/gift/muscle in today’s society. It is totally counter culture in our  fast paced instant gratification world we are living in. At its essence, willpower is the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals. Scientists believe that willpower is not something you have a certain amount of and that’s it. We’re not born each with an amount of willpower and sorry for you if you have less than Usain Bolt. No, willpower is a muscle and it must be trained like any other muscle before you can even attempt to achieve a goal that requires serious dedication.

So the question is how do you increase your willpower?

With strong willpower you can quit smoking, enforce your healthy eating goals and go to the gym. With strong willpower (and a few more things) you will more easily say no to the smoke being offered by a friend, and the piece of chocolate staring at you in the Woollies queue. It all starts with small steps. I believe I’ve been exercising my willpower muscle from a very young age. Being an athlete from a very young age made me put in those hours on the track running and sweating, willpower. Playing rugby for most of my childhood also made me endure a certain amount of pain and torture while exercising and practicing. Never giving in to peer pressure (due to a strict upbringing) and drinking, smoking and taking drugs at a young age also boosted my willpower. Later on and more recently not eating sweets/sugar and not smoking is also ways of keeping my willpower in a healthy condition.

Also, let me once again say that it’s  not like I’m some super human that can will anything. Going to the gym is still a struggle for me, as is an entire slab of chocolate that I can wolf down in 1 minute.


Here’s my tips on how you can increase your willpower:

1. Start small. Find something that is very insignificant that you want to change how you do it. Ex. Every morning when you finished drinking your coffee in bed and you get up take the cup immediately back to the kitchen. don’t leave it there until the evening or even the next day. Do it immediately. It is something small but it is the basics of exercising willpower when you must resist the urge of going directly to the bathroom, the shower, or wherever you normally go once you get up.

I try to clear the entire kitchen counter before I make coffee for myself. Our kitchen counter can get insanely dirty and cluttered, so this is not easy if my coffee addiction is biting on my heels. But, I force myself to first clear the counter and wipe it clean before I can begin to make coffee.

2. Put structures in place: It helps if you have gym clothes when going to the gym is one of your goals. Ensure your gym clothes is neatly packed somewhere easily accessible. Remember, when the time comes to go to the gym your willpower will try to fail and in doing so it will look for any excuse why you cannot go to gym now. “I don’t have clean clothes” or “I don’t have time” are two classic examples.

I pack my gym bag the evening before I go to bed. Just in case I forget or don’t have that last ounce of willpower in the morning.

3. Live holistic. This may seem like a bit of a gray area and a goal in itself, but being healthy physically, emotionally and mentally helps with sticking to habits, goals, and to continually exercise a strong willpower.

What are you waiting for? This is only 3 tips but we are literally faced with hundreds of opportunities daily to exercise our willpower out. Will I drink coffee or water? Will I lash out at this person or not?