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Poll: How To Get More Will Power

There are a lot of searches in Google every month for will power and its variations. Very few of these people seem to be looking for terms like “I already have enough will power, how can I celebrate?” It seems to be something that people want more of. How do you do it? How can you get more of something that is defined like this:

  • self-control
  • The ability to master your own behavior and carry out your wishes

And so on. It’s tough because any definition you find is talking about something that people want more of, but the way to get more of it is similarly unclear. Meaning, this post could easily be called “How to get more self control” or “how to control myself” or “how to make things happen.” But if it were as simple as saying, “Well, here’s how, just do this,” fewer people would be searching for information about these topics.

Self control and goals

The unhappiest times in my life have been the times when I have felt like I had the least control over my situation. I am now far enough removed that I realize that while there were things I couldn’t control, there were also plenty of things I wouldn’t control. I chose not to.

I spent a lot of time lying on couches in my house and wishing things were different. Maybe I was worried about money, maybe it was Tourette’s, maybe it was my appearance or my relationship–but it was all stress-related. It was all unproductive. I don’t say unnecessary–that’s not helpful and I generally believe that we all do the best we can with what we have at the time.

What I realize now is that is wasn’t so much that I could not impose my will on my situation to meet my goals. It was that things had gotten so hopeless that I no longer had goals. It wasn’t about self control–there wasn’t anything I was even trying to control. I just wanted time to go by so I could go to bed again.


sam elliotNow my problem is that I have too many goals I want to work on, but it is a good problem to have, I reckon (Sorry, I am a huge Sam Elliot fan and he suddenly popped into my head).

I don’t worry as much about self control or whether I have sufficient will power these days, because every day I know I am getting closer to at least one of my goals. As long as I have the discipline to take steps towards the things I have made myself accountable for, both in public and in private, I am pretty happy.

So I’ll quit rambling there and turn it over to you. How do you define will power? How do you get willpower? Do you feel like you have enough?


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  • frank September 20, 2010, 10:02 am

    Hi Josh, I like this one. It reminds me of the way I can get sometimes. I always feel better when I have alot on my plate, for some reason. Hope all is well by you. Hows that one arm chin coming?

  • Mark Tosczak September 20, 2010, 10:44 am

    In the book Drive, author Daniel Pink talks about how the analytical part of our brains tends to get confused by too many choices. If you’ve got too many things to do, you end up not doing much of anything – kind of paralysis by analysis.

    What has worked for me is to make a clear decision about what the very next thing is that I’m going to do, and then do it and not get distracted by all the other things I could be doing. Helps even more if you make the decision ahead of time and just focus on sticking to it. So instead of getting up in the morning and trying to decide between working out and writing and whatever else might be related to your goals, you decide the night before what the one thing is you’re going to do. Then you get up and you focus on just doing it. You have to put aside the nagging feeling that you could/should be doing something else, because that feeling leads back to that sense of overwhelm and not taking action. The goal is always to actually take action (which most of us would call having willpower).

  • Chris Beardsley September 20, 2010, 11:55 am

    This is going to sound negative and unwholesome to some people, for which I apologise.

    For me it comes down to “towards” and “away from” motivation.

    “Towards motivation” is great: people like carrots and will work hard to get them. “Away from motivation” is much more powerful, though: ever seen rats leaving a sinking ship?

    Get really, really frightened that you might not achieve your goals. Sounds negative but it works.

    I have found that it’s easy to get complacent and lose that fear when you’re already doing things that are much more remarkable than everyone around you. I have found that the solution to this is to find people who are much more remarkable than you in the area you want to improve. Force your brain to recognise how far you need to go before you even catch them, let alone surpass them. Find the fear that you will fail in this attempt and wallow in it.

    Graeme Obree used to say he was more afraid of failure than he was of dying. That’s why he raced The Hour, failed, went to bed, got up and raced it again, only to succeed. He was fueled by fear.

    Anyway, enough rambling. Sounds like you probably just need a holiday, Josh. Hope things pick up for you soon.

    • Josh Hanagarne September 20, 2010, 12:00 pm

      Chris, I may not have expressed what I wanted to clearly. I have more willpower than I ever have had and I am happier than I have ever been. It is because I cannot remember the last time I set a goal and didn’t achieve it. For me, it has nothing to do with fear and everything to do with fun.

      I’m more curious about what works for others. I know exactly what works for me. And I just got back from a week-long vacation:)

  • Boris September 20, 2010, 12:01 pm

    I view willpower as having goals, commitment to said goals, and the discipline to chip away at them until they are accomplished or not.

    I’ve been working on a piece that deals with “goals without expectations” that I think will be solid. As I see it, the expectations (read as “entitlement”) surrounding our goals that get us into trouble.

  • Demond Thompson September 20, 2010, 1:02 pm

    I see willpower as keeping your mind on whatever you subject you want (goals or anything else) for as long as you want. It’s a fun skill to work on and I’ve been at it for a while. It gets stronger all the time.

  • Chris Beardsley September 20, 2010, 1:33 pm

    My bad. I actually only stopped by to say I wanted to be part of any Sam Elliot fan club that was being set up.

    • Josh Hanagarne September 20, 2010, 4:06 pm

      You’re the president, but only because I can’t grow a mustache to save my life.

  • Heather September 21, 2010, 6:44 am

    So now I’ve got that old Replacements song, “Will Power,” stuck in my head. I don’t know if this counts or not, but I find that staying relatively SOBER and MAKING LISTS helps me acheive my goals. Or maybe it’s becasue I like to cross stuff off of lists. Does this count? I don’t know. . . now I feel compelled to Google Tommy Stinson, who is trapped in Europe with Guns N’ Roses, poor cat. Sad-face, Tommy Stinson, sad-face.

  • Jen H September 22, 2010, 2:24 pm

    Like the other comments have said, having personal goals is a big part of willpower and for me, but then I break those goals into smaller promises that I make to myself and keeping the promises builds into reaching a goal. I set a goal for myself to eliminate the clutter and mess from my bedroom (well, my half anyway) and reached that goal by making promises to myself like making my bed every day. It sounds silly to write it down, but those baby steps really helped.