Will & Power

Control yourself!” We all say it, mostly to ourselves. We say it when we ‘indulge’ in behaviors that cause short-term gain for long-term pain. And guilt. I cite many of the usual suspects: eating the wrong things, being lazy, staying up too late, drinking too much. There are others, of course. Why do we do such things? After all, aren’t we entirely in control of ourselves all of the time?


Research tells us that willpower is a limited resource.

Each of us only has so much of it.

Ian Newby-Clark of My Bad Habits.


Who among us has not made a plan to get up in the morning and exercise, but then hit snooze one time too many, sleeping through our morning jog? We may have been super-inspired by the incredible brain-boosting properties of exercise. We may have had every intention to start an exercise plan and stick to it. But then… we didn’t. Our warm bed sucked us in. We’ll exercise tomorrow.

What we need is willpower.

Once we get in the habit of exercising—or of staying calm in the face of a toddler meltdown, of not checking our email after five o’clock, or of doing anything else we want to have the resolve to do—we don’t need to try so hard. But for now, because we are in the habit of pushing snooze — or yelling, or checking email compulsively all evening — we need self-discipline.

© 2012 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

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Books on willpower:

  • Baumeister, Roy F., and John Tierney. Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.Penguin Group US, 2011.
  • Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Random House Publishing Group, 2012.
  • Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.
  • McGonigal, Kelly. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It. Penguin Group US, 2011.
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