Defining Willpower

Let’s talk about willpower. It’s the ability to delay instant gratification to reach longer-term goals. That sounds a bit dry, doesn’t it? Let’s look at a couple of examples of willpower in action.

When a young boy saves up his allowance money to buy a bike instead of spending it on candy this week, he’s using willpower. When your friend skips the burger and fries at dinner and orders the grilled chicken salad instead, she’s using willpower to reach the long-term goal of weight loss and better health. When you make yourself crawl out of bed early in the morning to go for a run instead of sleeping in, you’re using willpower to reach your goal of getting back into shape.

In short, willpower means that you’re able to give something up now so you can reap a larger reward down the road. We use willpower every single day. We use it when we get up as soon as the alarm goes off so we can get the kids to school and go to work.

Would most of us rather sleep in longer? Of course. But we know we need that job and the paycheck that comes with it, so we exercise our willpower to crawl out of bed. We continue to use it to make wise decisions throughout the day until it’s time to go to sleep.

Is every single decision we make wise and good for our long-term goals? Of course not. We’re only human, and if we had an unlimited supply of willpower and had complete focus on our long-term goals, we wouldn’t struggle with late homework assignments, those pesky extra pounds, or consumer debt.

Impulse decisions and giving in to what we want now are what keeps us from always reaching our long-term goals. We eat that cookie because it looks tasty. We buy the new gadget simply because we want it or because it makes us happy now instead of saving our money. We don’t always have the willpower to delay instant gratification. Sometimes we give in.

There are a few reasons for that. One of them is that willpower isn’t always there, we don’t have an unlimited supply. When willpower starts to run low or when we’re not highly motivated to reach the long-term goal, it’s easy to give in to what we want now or what makes us feel better today.

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