How Does Willpower Really Work?

Donald Miller

Recently I read (listened to on audio) a book called Willpower by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney and took great interest in their findings about how willpower actually works.

Citing study after study (perhaps too many for an otherwise enjoyable read) Baumeister and Tierney argue willpower actually comes from the muscle of the mind and that it can be strengthened. As we all enter week two of New Years Resolutions, I thought I’d share a little of what I learned.

How do we build up our willpower?

    1. We don’t try to tackle too much too soon. If you’re trying to lose weight, get out of debt, get married, build a rocket ship and write a symphony, chances are you’re going to fail. Why? It’s too much for the willpower muscle to lift. The authors argue we’re better off choosing one, simple resolution and going easy on ourselves as we build our muscles.

    *Photo by Aaron May

    2. We eat for strength. No kidding, our willpower is directly connected to nutrition. More than one study revealed that when glucose levels are low, people have much less discipline. But before going to drink that milkshake (so you can resist that milkshake) know that high glycemic foods cause a spike and then a decline in glucose levels, making willpower even more difficult.

    3. Rest and sleep. Just like any muscle, the brain is strengthened with rest and sleep. After you work your brain, it needs rest in order to grow. Getting enough sleep is key, and taking breaks at regular intervals will help. Ever notice how you have more willpower in the morning than in the evenings, and after a meal as opposed to when you’re hungry?

Does thinking about willpower as being affected by the muscle of the brain rather than some kind of personality issue help you have hope you might accomplish what you’d like to this year? It certainly helped me.

Now excuse me, I’ve got to take a little nap so I can fight that Wendy’s Frosty tonight!

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller is all about story. He helps people live a better story at and grow their business at Follow Don on Twitter (@donaldmiller). To read more of his posts on the Storyline Blog, click here.