The Connection Between Emotions and Willpower

On some days it’s easy to find the willpower to delay instant gratification for the greater good or to get a step closer to a long-term goal. On other days it’s a lot harder to do the same.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this. You’re doing well with your healthy diet and eating less for a while. Then you hit a bad day where all you can think of is eating junk food. What made the difference?

Your emotions may have been what was zapping your willpower. There’s a strong connection between emotions and willpower.

Think of them as opposing influences on your mind and your actions. Emotions cause you to make decisions with your heart, while willpower makes you involve your head. That’s why we tend to make choices based on short-term rewards and instant gratification when we’re stressed, sad, excited, or otherwise very emotional.

Another way to look at this is that emotions are hot feelings and a hot way of thinking. They lead you to make impulse decisions and reactions, instead of responding with reason and thought.

Willpower, on the other hand, is a cold feeling. You’re in control and can proceed with a cool head. You can make rational choices that will serve you well in the future.

Knowing about this connection between emotions and willpower is a good thing. Once you realize that both these things affect your decisions, you have more control.

It means that even when emotions are running high, you can be aware of your choices and what’s driving them. That alone is often enough to stop you in your tracks and take a moment to cool down and think. 

Take advantage of that pause to re-engage your mind and your willpower. Use it to walk away from temptation, or at the very least delay decisions until you are back in full control.

That may mean walking out of the store without making a purchase and sleeping on it. It may mean closing the freezer without getting that tub of ice cream out. Just promise yourself to wait for five minutes and reevaluate how badly you want to eat it then.

Start to pay attention to your emotions and practice this cooling off period.

Start at times when emotions aren’t running high. The stronger the emotion, the harder it is to give yourself time to allow willpower to kick in.

Start small and practice, so you’re ready for those tough days when emotions do run high. It will serve you well.

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