Willpower over Desire: Saying “No” To What You Want Most

By Monica Wilson on February 09, 2012

You were offered a plate of luscious chocolate cake which turned out to be your most favourite food. But just yesterday you were asked by your doctor to refrain from eating sweets. Will you say “no” or will you take a bite?  

“How I wish I had the willpower!” Many people have said this statement so many times. According to studies, it takes 7 years for an average smoker to finally quit. Dieters are also confronted with similar dilemma when it comes to reaching their weight loss goals. Being able to stick with a promise even if it will benefit oneself has never been easy for many people. Simply putting aside the old habit you’ve grown up with can be extremely heartbreaking. And you might ask – is willpower really hard to find?

What is Willpower?

Experts have different views regarding willpower. In simple layman’s term, willpower is the ability to resist any influence to achieve a certain goal. Willpower is the same with ‘self-control’ which we can say is the power to say ‘no’ despite any chances of indulging in a habit or an act. For example, you are advised by your doctor to take a walk or jog early in the morning but you preferred to watch TV because you don’t feel like exercising that day. According to Rachel Combe, a writer of Elle Magazine, “willpower is like a muscle”. It is subject to fatigue and energy supply that it can get worn out through traditional tests. Combe added that women have more issues with willpower than men. This is because women deal with a lot of situations that necessitate decision-making. Women are basically the head of the household. They deal with work, housekeeping, budgeting, and watching over the welfare of the children, and so on. She cited one study that found that the more competing goals a woman has, the more likely she will get mentally.

Roy Bauermeister, a renowned psychology professor has similar view on willpower. He stated “willpower is what separates us from the animals. It’s the capacity to restrain our impulses, resist temptation – do what’s right and good for us in the long run, not what we want to do right now. It’s central, in fact, to civilisation.” On his book, Bauermeister pointed out that willpower is the key to success and a happy life.

Is Willpower Hard to Find?

Walter Mischel conducted a 32-year study about willpower and how people can improve it. Together with his research team, Mischel tracked down the lives of over 1,000 people from birth to their adulthood and observed their levels of self-discipline. The researchers found out that those who have high self control grew to be healthier, happier and wealthier regardless of the differences on their intelligence, race and social standing. On the other hand, those with low willpower were more likely to settle on paying jobs and few savings, to experience drug and alcohol abuse, to get overweight, and to have problems on maintaining steady relationships.

Willpower isn’t hard to find simply because it’s a value that is innate to every one of us. It’s just that some individuals have low self-control while others have high level of willpower. Just like muscle, Bauermeister said that willpower can get exhausted when overused. But, it can also improve when it is regularly exercised. Little by little, individuals can learn how to control themselves. Little by little, everyone can learn the art of willpower.

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