Willpower Part I: The Force of Greatness

by Brett & Kate McKay on January 1, 2012 · 81 comments

in A Man's Life, Personal Development

What are your regrets from last year?

Failing to stick with an exercise program?

Losing a girlfriend because you strayed?

Failing a class?

Hurting a loved one with your temper?

What resolutions have you made for the new year?

Losing 20 pounds?

Getting up earlier in the morning?

Reining in your spending?

Wasting less time mindlessly surfing the internet?

Regrets and resolutions. What do they have in common? Willpower. A lack of and a need for.

But what is willpower anyway? You’ve heard the term before, but it probably seems like an awfully abstract force. You might feel as those it’s something innate, and that some men were born with a larger portion of it than others. It’s something you likely wish you had more of yourself, but don’t have any idea of how to go about it.

Happily, the truth is that willpower is a very real energy–a power source that can be depleted, strengthened, and conserved. And the man who learns how to tap into this fuel and harness his willpower gains some of the most vital knowledge one can possess: how to make of himself and his life anything he wants them to be.

The History of Willpower

“Self-control is self-mastery. It is kingship over all life. At the center of your being sits yourself. Your seat ought to be a throne. If you are not in control, if there are any forces in your nature that are unruly, that do not acknowledge your sway, you are not the king you should be. Part of your kingdom is in insurrection. The strength of your life is divided. The strong man is he whose whole being is subject to him.” -James Russell Miller, The Beauty of Self-Control, 1911

Like many great truths, the nature and importance of willpower was understood by our forbearers, lost in time, and then rediscovered and refined by modern science.

A focus on willpower originated in the 19th century, around the time of the Industrial Revolution. As people observed the way in which steam could be harnessed and turned into productive energy, their thoughts turned to contemplating the great feats the human machine might be capable of by channeling a different kind of fuel source: willpower.  In a time when a successful life was measured by the pursuit of character and virtue, a man’s “strength of will” or “moral resistance” was seen as the most vital quality for achieving those ends. Regardless of the temptations he was beset with, a man of iron-clad self-control never veered from his purpose and code of honor.  As the captain of his fate, he steered his own course, come what may. No accomplishment in position or wealth could be measured next to the greatest conquest of all…mastery of one’s self.

This celebration of willpower was weakened by the Progressive movement of the early 20th century, which focused on people’s external environment as opposed to their personal qualities as determining their fate. Poverty and crime could be traced to a person’s deficient upbringing and squalid surroundings, progressives argued, not their lack of self-control.

During World War II the term picked up some negative baggage from the release of the Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will. And in post-war America, willpower was relegated to the background by the rising consumer culture—after all, self-control is bad for business. The hippies of the 1960s heralded the maxim of “if it feels good, do it” as a guiding principle for life. And the philosophy of self-help gurus like Norman Vincent Peale and Napoleon Hill, who emphasized positive thinking as the way to success, remained popular throughout the 20th century.

In the present time, this year has seen the release of a bevy of books that question how much free will and agency we really have after all. Psychologists and philosophers point to research and studies to argue that humans are highly irrational beings whose behaviors are largely controlled by their unconscious minds.

Yet at the same time, other psychologists have been launching a revival of interest in the concept of willpower and demonstrating in studies that not only does it constitute a real and enormously vital energy, but that one’s belief in it need not involve invariably blaming the victim for their misfortunes (an understanding of willpower can illuminate just how external factors effect the downtrodden), nor put you in the ranks of the cruel goose stepper (having strong self-control is linked to greater levels of empathy and altruism, not less).

The Importance of Willpower

“That majestic endowment [the Will] constitutes the high privilege granted to each man apparently to test how much the man will make of himself. It is clothed with powers which will enable him to obtain the greatest of all possessions — self-possession. Self-possession implies the capacity for self-restraint, self-compulsion and self-direction; and he who has these, if he live long enough, can have any other possession that he wants.” -William Hanna Thompson, Brain and Personality, 1906

Psychologists have always been keen to find the personal characteristics that correlate to positive life outcomes. While they’ve turned over hundreds of rocks in this search, they’ve only found two factors that consistently lead people to greater levels of happiness, health, and success: willpower and intelligence.

Unfortunately, researchers have yet to discover ways of increasing a person’s intelligence in the long-term; it is an aptitude that is largely genetic and innate.

So when it comes to bettering our lives, that leaves willpower as the only tool within our control.

But what a powerful tool it is.

By now you’ve probably heard about the oft-cited marshmallow experiment in which four-year-old children were left alone in a room with a marshmallow in front of them. The children were told they could eat the marshmallow right away, or wait 15 minutes to receive an additional marshmallow. The children with the highest self-control, those who were able to wait in order to double their white gelatinous booty—grew up to become fitter adults who got better test scores and grades and enjoyed healthier relationships.

In another study which examined 36 different personality traits of a group of children, only one, willpower, later correlated to their college GPA. In fact the correlation between willpower and college GPA was stronger than that between future grades and IQ or SAT scores.

Other studies have shown that people with higher levels of self-control are more emotionally stable and struggle less with anger, anxiety, depression, and drug and alcohol abuse. They also make more popular bosses, have more friends, and are more likely to be in a stable marriage and less likely to get divorced. And all of these benefits hold true even when the results are controlled for things like class, race, and intelligence. The same outcomes were also found when siblings who were raised in the same household were studied. The siblings with more self-control fared better in life than their willpower-lacking brothers and sisters.

“The strength of your life is measured by the strength of your will.”—Henry Van Dyke

It is easy to see why such a high correlation between your level of willpower and how far you reach in life exists. All success, happiness, and satisfaction are achieved by minimizing your screw ups and maximizing your positive decisions and habits. And the energy that drives your ability to produce both outcomes is willpower. The man with more willpower takes five steps forward and one step back, while the man with less willpower takes two steps forward and then one step back. Thus, it is not an overstatement to describe willpower as the absolute linchpin quality in determining the outcome of your life—whether you’ll be superhuman or ordinary, king or slave, man or mouse.

Understanding Willpower

“A better definition of the Will, therefore, is ‘the Power Of Self-direction.’”

“The Will may be now [defined] as a power to choose what the man shall do.”


-Frank Hadding Chaddock, The Power of Will, 1919

Okay, so the strength of your willpower is incredibly important. But to return to the question posed in the introduction…what exactly is willpower anyway?

Essentially, it is a mental energy that allows you to direct your actions in four categories of behavior:

  • Thoughts. Don’t think about a white bear! You just thought about a white bear, didn’t you? Willpower helps you focus on what you want to think about, by keeping unwelcome and intrusive thoughts at bay.
  • Emotions. You can’t will yourself to feel happy or sad. But you can decide to take actions to change how you’re feeling—“I feel down. I’m going to go for a run—that always lifts my spirits.” And when you put up a front and fake an emotion, like being the rock for someone else when you feel like falling apart yourself, that takes willpower too.
  • Impulses. Impulses are things like: “I want to eat that piece of cake.” “I want to punch that guy.” “I want to check my email instead of working.” While there are ways to minimize the number of impulses like this you get, you don’t have direct control over whether they pop into your head. But willpower does help you regulate how you react to the impulse. Will you ignore it or give in?
  • Performance control. This deals with how well you can focus and concentrate on a task, how long you stick with something before giving up, how much effort you expend during different phases of an exercise or task, how well you manage your time, etc.

While willpower regulates all these different categories of potential and actual actions, it’s the same supply of willpower that deals with all of them—you don’t have one willpower supply for emotions and one for performance control.

Basically, whenever you have a desire to do something that conflicts with your long-term goals and your core values, willpower is the thing that kicks in and tries to keep you on track. The stronger your willpower is, the better chance of making a decision in line with your goals. Willpower is what allows you to choose your path and to persevere in that path despite obstacles, resistance, and weakness.

While it’s true that our unconscious minds lead us to make choices and behave in ways we are not always aware of and that are not always rational, the sway of the unconscious is greater when it comes to our short-term decisions. Willpower acts as an executive force that looks for patterns and sees the connection between our present behavior and our long-term goals, and then makes course corrections to keep us heading in the right direction. Or in other words, willpower is the skipper of our ship; despite wind and waves that push the ship around, the skipper constantly consults his compass and adjusts the rudder so we stay on course.

I find it useful to imagine willpower in the context of the old image of the devil and the angel sitting on each of your shoulders, but sans the religious imagery. Instead of an angel, imagine Teddy Roosevelt on one side, and Al Bundy on the other. TR’s saying to you, “Bully! Read that textbook!” while Al is whispering in your ear to grab a beer and plop in front of the television. Who will win? Well that depends on TR’s strength relative to Al at any given moment. What determines that strength? A phenomenon called “ego depletion.”

And that’s what we’ll explore next week in the second part of this three part series, when we discuss the finite nature of our willpower supply. Then we’ll finish up with an article on how to strengthen, and even more importantly, how to conserve your willpower for the most important things in your life.


Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney

Willpower Series:
The Force of Greatness
How Your Willpower is Depleted
How to Strengthen Your Willpower and 20 Ways to Conserve It

{ 81 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Suyog Mody January 1, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Nice way to start 2012! Thanks for the post.

2 Mitchell Williams January 1, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Hopefully these series of article will help us keep our resolutions for the new year. Great job guys.

3 Rafeeq January 1, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Thanks for the post. Exactly what I needed to read today.

4 Mr Writing III January 1, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Great article. Your quotes are always so unique it keeps me on my toes and has me looking up people I never heard of.

Keep up the great work – God Bless!

5 Koskela January 1, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Albeit slightly different from willpower, Finnish people have a concept called “Sisu”. Worth checking out, even if you weren’t lucky enough to be born a Soumi-poika like me.

6 Nick Estelle January 1, 2012 at 2:12 pm

I found “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength” in my local library a couple weeks ago, and am working my way through it! It is an excellent read – lots of research, but written in a humorous and accessible way. I would encourage everyone to look for a copy.

7 Nick January 1, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Great way to start the new year- I’m very excited to see the rest of the articles.

8 Tosin January 1, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Great article and start to the New Year.

9 Mike January 1, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Good post, Brett. Willpower is something that I have always struggled with and it needs to get more focus this year.

10 Euan January 1, 2012 at 4:58 pm

lost 45lb since october by watching what im eating, gonna go for another 15lb or so, what i find helps best is to always keep your eye on the prize so to speak, like when you get an impulse to eat something when you’ve already eaten enough the mental strategy i use is to remember how much i want to be leaner because it gets you thinking about what it will be like which takes your mind off your other impulses. the hardest bit is starting, once you get going and see the results its much easier. glad to see AOM back too.

11 Robert January 1, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Always nice to find good, solid reading on the internet. Keep it up.

12 Claucio January 1, 2012 at 6:26 pm

The four categories of behavior reminds me the four caracters (wizard-thoughts, king-control, lover-emotions and warrior-impulse), the four elements (air, earth, water and fire) and the four archetypes described by Jung. The Great Four appears all the time!

13 Shawn January 1, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Thanks. Good article. Happy New Year!

14 poormansrich January 1, 2012 at 8:00 pm

Great post – “Wasting less time mindlessly surfing the internet” is my resolution.

15 Stefan January 1, 2012 at 8:00 pm

I agree with a lot of this article, except the negative outlook on Napoleon Hill’s philosophy and the part about not being able to will yourself to select positive emotions. Napolean Hill preaches success starts with a burning desire and an indomitable will. Also, anyone who is an experienced meditator will tell you that the ability to be selective of your emtions is one of the main attributes a person is trying to cultivate through his meditation practice. Otherwise well written

16 LM January 1, 2012 at 8:22 pm

Excellent article. As a psychologist I can say that the emerging research on willpower is very encouraging indeed.

Also in regards to Stefan’s comment, there are no studies to my knowledge that show a person can will themselves to feel a certain emotion. If I am wrong on that front, I would be happy to be corrected. Actually, he proves the point himself in saying that it is meditation that can change an emotion. That is an action resulting from will, not will itself.

17 pb89 January 1, 2012 at 8:39 pm

Great article as always to start off the new year. Def helps me trying to better my willpower

18 Cyril January 1, 2012 at 9:03 pm

Really liked this one.
Only one thing bother me; you often write “studies” or “other studies”, but without giving your sources.
Something like ” X & Y, “Willpower and Manliness”, International Journal of Manliness 52, 102-112).
I think it would give credit to what you’re writing, and more importantly, readers would be able to learn more about the subject if they want.

Happy New year btw ! : )

19 John January 1, 2012 at 9:23 pm

Great post….I was sitting here today really tempted to break open my bottle of MacKinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky (Yes, the Shackelton Whisky!) which my wife had gotten me for Christmas. We agreed to open only on a very big occasion. We decided once I finished my Ph.D……I’m currently in my sophomore year of my B.S……..need willpower!

20 Matt January 1, 2012 at 10:18 pm

Great post. I’m interested to see where the idea of “choice” plays into the next two posts.

21 Max Glutty January 1, 2012 at 10:37 pm

the guy in the pic totally looks like hes not wearing pants.

22 Christopher Hall January 1, 2012 at 10:42 pm

I have often heard of the marshmallow experiment. However, I have never heard that there was a correlation to how well children resisted getting the second marshmallow and how well they did in their lives. Do you have any sources for the studies you’re citing? This is my one particular issue with your blog Brett. You constantly reference “studies” however you rarely cite what study.

Don’t get me wrong I love what you’re trying to do here, but it makes it difficult for me to figure out if the information you’re basing your opinion on is reliable, and thus something I would want to base my opinions on.

23 Christopher Hall January 1, 2012 at 10:43 pm

meant to say ^ “Eating the first marshmallow”

24 Brett McKay January 1, 2012 at 10:47 pm

All of the studies that will be mentioned in the posts are included in the book noted in the end as the source. I would recommend picking up the book for those who would like to do more research. In every article on the site, we always either link to the study or provide a reference in which the studies can be looked up.

Please keep in mind that we are a blog and not a scholarly journal. We follow the standard that even newspapers adhere to in naming the source of the information, and I believe that is sufficient for this medium.

25 MC January 2, 2012 at 12:24 am

Great post. Will is the friend we all need to meet again. He’s a good one.

26 Noah January 2, 2012 at 12:53 am

This is an absolute must for New Years’ Resolutions. The one thing Brett, however, that confuses me are your discussions on discipline and willpower. How do you differentiate between the two, because they don’t really seem different from each other. Which is more important in the long run?

27 Thomas Pierce January 2, 2012 at 1:07 am

Thank you for the thoughtful article. I agree that willpower is an accessible force in our lives. The measure of restraint is equivalent to the measure of one’s character.

28 Bushman January 2, 2012 at 2:20 am

I have also heard of the marshmallow experiment, however you failed to mention the one child who ate just the inside of the marshmallow

29 Bushman January 2, 2012 at 2:21 am

I have also heard of the marshmallow experiment, however you failed to mention the one child who ate just the inside of the marshmallow.

30 Taylor Hendricksen January 2, 2012 at 2:56 am

Absolutely fantastic post! This basically just put to words the thoughts and feelings I’ve been trying to sort through for the past 4 months. So much of success in life comes down to this. Concentrated power of will is what makes this world turn!

31 Brent Buchanan January 2, 2012 at 5:22 am

One, intelligence is not found to be “largely genetic” as you suggest. One only needs to look at socioeconomic circumstances and school performance of children to conclude otherwise. Or put another way, you are largely downplaying social factors. The studies mentioned I doubt could control for other causes of differential outcomes in, for example, siblings.

In addition to this, I don’t understand why concepts involving differential success are either sheer will-power or sheer external forces based – not anywhere in between. I think it would be naive on any person’s part to downplay either – as you do here on the part of social factors. I also don’t understand this concept of success being the sole link to happiness. Maybe you are just writing for an audience.

While will-power is something that can be consciously cultivated, it is not something that is, or should be thought of as, isolated from social factors. Think of the effects of advertising, social norms/gatherings/group effects, situations of diminished autonomy (hierarchical social structures), etc.

Maybe what I am trying to get at here is that emphasis on the individual cultivation of will-power, while simultaneously ignoring other factors that can play into people’s lives, is very negligent of reality, or again, misleading to some who may read this.

Maybe more emphasis on the concept of Mindfulness could enable people to be aware of all social AND psychological processes effecting their lives. Ultimately, this is much more useful.

32 Andrej Škraba January 2, 2012 at 5:31 am

The best article to start a new year with!

33 Mato Tope January 2, 2012 at 5:52 am

Another great AoM start to the new year. As if the Manvotionals book wasn’t inspiring enough! Just on my second read-through of Manvotionals and can highly recommend it to anyone interested in willpower, resolution, discipline and all the other magnificent virtues.
It should be required reading in schools.

34 Habib January 2, 2012 at 6:48 am

Would you pealse add an option to your blog posts, like “Send this post to a Friend” on each of your blog posts and articles. It would be usefull for emailing some manually selected posts to others.Thank you for the thoughtful article.

35 Scott Lee January 2, 2012 at 6:54 am

Fantastic article! Such a great way to start off the year. I cannot wait for the next one.


36 Silviu January 2, 2012 at 8:00 am

What a great article! I’m looking forward to more articles about this topic.

37 David Y January 2, 2012 at 8:06 am

Good way to start the year.

I am something of a late bloomer when it comes to will power. Did not have as much as I should have as a child or young adult. But, it has gotten better as I have gotten older.

I find the more I work on doing some things and not doing others, the easier it is to maintain those habits. But, it still requires some effort to not slip back into old bad ways though.

38 Tank January 2, 2012 at 10:31 am

@Habib, if you look to the left of your screen you will see an email button.

39 Brett McKay January 2, 2012 at 11:28 am


I think that willpower and discipline are essentially two different terms for and sides of the same thing. I personally use “discipline” when I’m talking more philosophically, when I’m thinking about ideas of virtue and character. While willpower describes the psychological, and as we’ll see next time even biological side of this force.

40 Mike January 2, 2012 at 1:43 pm

This was a good read, as was the comments. It made me realize something. When I graduated high school, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. One month after grad I was enrolled in art school. I was one of a handful who had a job before graduating art school and from then on I worked my butt off.

My pay increased every year, either by raise or movig to a new company. I met a woman, we married and had a child together. We bought a house and had a nice little thing going.

I had hit the wall at my job and it had soured my attitude professionally. This led to souring it personally as well. In early Septembet 2001 I was let go. 3 days later, 9-11.

I was tainted and in 2005 the marriage was sliding. By early 2007 we were divorced. I had put on 50+ pounds and havent worked really hard at my jobs like I did in the beginning. I stopped caring I guess.

It seems to me I was attractive to women and ultimately my wife because I was driven to be successful. I think besides the weight gain, my lack of drive is a huge turn off. I know it’s not viewed as success for a 38 year old man to live in an apartment, though I am debt free. But I think I lost the fire and thus my will power its been having negative effects on my life. I know my attitude sucks sometimes, as I watch my job increasing become obsolete and the pay long topped out.

I feel my will power and my forward vision is severely lacking these days and really, I feel listless and pessimistic about the future.

My point is will power needs also to have vision. See the future, be the future so to speak. My opinion anyway

41 Claude Hall January 2, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Great advice man i really needed this.

42 Dan Smith January 2, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Willpower…such a good topic two days after I attempt to will myself into not eating like a horse anymore! That impulse stuff is always hard. Sometimes I just don’t know why I eat what I eat, and it’s killing me. Must do better. Thank you for this article. I appreciate it.

43 David January 2, 2012 at 5:15 pm

Glad this is this topic was brought up. Fits in with creating a blueprint for my life.


44 Amy January 2, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Ryan just finished a book on this subject, so it was a timely post for me. It’s all willpower all the time up in here.

Teddy Roosevelt and Al Bundy. Classic. Hilarious.

45 Robert Woolston January 2, 2012 at 7:48 pm

What an excellent post. Regardless of our own individual circumstances (i.e. the cards we’re dealt in life) willpower is the innate tool we need to master to achieve fulfillment and confidence in life. Very much looking forward to the next post in this series.

46 Jonathan January 2, 2012 at 8:29 pm

Great post! This really hit home with me.

47 Alex January 2, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Excellent post. This came at just the right moment. Great TR And Al Bundy analogy.

48 Garret January 2, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Good post, very interesting and I especially look forward to the next one.

One thing really jumped out at me, however, and I’m rather surprised no one else has mentioned it – your claim that intelligence is innate and genetic. I was very surprised not only that you made this claim, but that you didn’t attempt to elaborate upon it to be more clear.

I want to make sure: you’re referring to intelligence quotient, not actual intelligence, correct? That is, one’s ability to think creatively and identify patterns (the intelligence quotient) instead of their actual knowledge (intelligence).

While I don’t think that claiming that intelligence quotient is innate and fixed is so egregious, it still kind of surprises me: it seems to me that the central premise of manliness is that everyone can improve in every way. While I am aware that IQ is commonly described as being a fixed number, it still seems odd that you would so quickly dismiss the idea that it can be improved even a little.

I know it’s not really the topic of this post, but I would like to hear your thoughts on this.

49 Vinicius January 3, 2012 at 1:10 am

Well, can’t ignore the fact that this post gave me some willpower.

50 Andrew January 3, 2012 at 2:04 am

Really looking forward to the next 2 parts. Great article.

51 P.M.Lawrence January 3, 2012 at 2:19 am

By now you’ve probably heard about the oft-cited marshmallow experiment in which four-year-old children were left alone in a room with a marshmallow in front of them. The children were told they could eat the marshmallow right away, or wait 15 minutes to receive an additional marshmallow. The children with the highest self-control, those who were able to wait in order to double their white gelatinous booty—grew up to become fitter adults who got better test scores and grades and enjoyed healthier relationships.

That’s completely backwards, for some children. The ones with more self control ate their first marshmallow straight away, precisely in order to avoid having to eat another marshmallow – if, like me at that age, they didn’t like marshmallows (it was a texture thing – my mouth wasn’t yet big enough to swallow them whole as I can now, so I had the unpleasant experience of that slimy muck gooing me up).

So that was a poorly designed experiment. Experimenters should always make a separate check that the incentives are properly lined up for all the subjects – which can be tricky. I once heard of some lab. rats that had figured out the protocols, so when they were first offered a choice of food in a new experiment they went for their least favourite. In later stages they could just take what they liked and skip doing the work needed to get what they didn’t like.

52 Brook January 3, 2012 at 4:49 am

Seemed a bit odd of you to use Teddy Roosevelt as your angel example, for the voice of good willpower, in that he was also one figure supposedly behind the early Progressive Movement, which you say minimized the precepts of willpower. I don’t mean to suggest I am an advocator of progressivism: in fact, no, I love the statement, “greatest conquest of all…mastery of one’s self.”
Looking forward to the next two articles. thnx, B.

53 nkosana January 3, 2012 at 9:35 am

Great advice to start the year.Thanks!

54 Chris January 3, 2012 at 10:03 am

You left me hanging…
I’m looking forward to the rest.

55 James January 3, 2012 at 10:59 am

Willpower is the one essential ingredient to success, however I also believe it is at it’s best while utilized in short “bursts”. Before going into my thoughts, I look forward to reading the remaining segments of this article.

The depth of some of the recent articles has been outstanding, and it is great to see comments from others which are actively creating a very good discussion.

56 AM January 3, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Love the post. Love the site.
I think of willpower and self control as complementary aspects of living our values. Willpower is an action, making myself do something even if I don’t want to. Self control is the process of not doing of something even if I want to. So, I use my willpower to exert my self control by acting in a way which keeps me in line with my real values. I make that distinction because I believe there are cases where people are chastised for not having willpower yet the issue is more lack of self control. Two different yet complementary thought and brain tracks.

57 Aaron January 3, 2012 at 1:25 pm

I think there’s something inherently phony about “New Year’s Resolutions.” It’s almost like a joke with a punchline that plays out over a year.
The only “resolution” worth making is to resolve to make yourself better with a *daily* application of effort, with true reflection on what was and wasn’t accomplished.
Setting daily, monthly, quarterly, annual goals is a different story, if there is routinized self-discipline that accompanies them.

58 Cole Bradburn January 5, 2012 at 11:47 am

Great article Brett. Willpower is what can make a man a world-changer, and seems be lacking more and more. My grandfather always called this resolve, and said it was what made him successful.

59 Samuel January 5, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Awesome, I can´t wait for the next part! :-)

60 pal January 6, 2012 at 8:36 pm

Wonderful article.

61 Ric January 7, 2012 at 2:06 am

A very thought provoking article which certainly places will power (correctly) on a pedistel. If you cant exercise positive will power then u cannot fully control things like impulses and thoughts. If you cant control these things then who exactly are you?!

62 Victor Quesada January 8, 2012 at 5:06 pm

My only complaint is that I desire to know how to improve my willpower. I have been more mindful and used my forebrain more often these past months, but I sometimes still feel like I hit a wall. Thanks for the articles and the quotes, they are really universal; I have seen similar ones in Eastern Philosophy texts as well: “One must master oneself to master the Universe.”

63 Antonio Fernandes January 9, 2012 at 7:12 am

Willpower. Something i clearly lack and, as i am making an effort to upgrade from “Man-Child” to “Man”, decided to put a lot more effort to increase my willpower.

The TR/Al Bundy analogy sounds great. Personally, i will use Winston Churchill and Mr.Bean as extremes for my willpower-buildup.

Thanks for a great article!

64 Bill January 9, 2012 at 9:39 am

While I sincerely appreciate the post, I’m fairly uncomfortable with the content.

First, blaming the Progressive era for a drift away from exercise of willpower is scary! The reforms of that era were meant to correct massive corruption and abuse in a variety of categories, including psychological practices. And our patron saint of willpower, TR, was a major Progressive!

I love the marshmallow study but at age 4, how are these children refusing the marshmallow?! As the father of a 5 y/o, I’m not sure how I would “parent” that into him, which leaves me to wonder if willpower has genetic triggers — undermining the author’s assertion that one can call forth willpower, etc…

Thought-provoking post. Thanks again.

65 Jakob January 9, 2012 at 11:45 am

Your articles are so relevant! It’s amazing, so many posts have popped up that were about things I went around thinking about just the other day.

Cheers from Sweden

66 MARKWESLEYPOWER January 9, 2012 at 12:37 pm

This is excellent!!
Great how our blog posts relate, and interact.
So glad I’ve found you guys!!!
Will Power is me getting up every day at 5:05 to go and 500 words, (more) or less, on my blog.

Thanks Again

67 MARKWESLEYPOWER January 9, 2012 at 12:38 pm

WRITE 500 words
(most of that 90 minutes is spent proof reading)

68 Fearless January 9, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Great post Brett. Personally I like to have a concrete challenge in front of me to keep my willpower strong. For instance I like to participate in adventure races such as the the Warrior Dash and such. Next race is the New York leg of the Spartan Sprint in only 146 days. Knowing I only have a finite amount of time to train feeds my willpower every day. Without a concrete goal or challenge it is very easy for me to stop pushing myself mentally and physically.

69 Peter January 10, 2012 at 2:42 am

Wonderful article about the power of will. It’s in a constant battle with the power of want.

70 Tom Smedley January 10, 2012 at 2:51 am

Çünkü Tanrı bize korkuluk ruhu değil, güç, sevgi, ve ÖZDENİTİM ruhu vermiştir.

Because God to us fearful spirit not, power, love, and SELF MASTERY spirit He has given.

Believers have supernatural resources to invoke to compensate for personal shortcomings. “When I am weak, then am I strong.” Christ offers us a character prosthesis.

71 Best Mens Ties January 10, 2012 at 8:39 am

Typical regrets and always the same resolutions… Without willpower and discipline we can have the same discussion every year, usually during this times when people make their resolutions…

72 Matt January 13, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Let me start off by saying that I enjoy your website and your articles immensely. Very good ideas which pertain to all aspects of a man’s life and which have truly allowed me to open my mind and better myself as a man.
One thing I wish you work on: When you say a phrase like “studies show” or “the statistics indicate” please reference those “studies” or “statistics”. I see that you have ONE reference for this particular article. If you reference other material, let’s see it! It gives more your articles validity and adds to your overall work. Other than that, fantastic job – keep it up!

73 Glen W January 13, 2012 at 4:20 pm

Traditional Eastern Orthodox Christians adhere to an extremely rigorous fasting regimen…precisely designed to strengthen willpower or “exercise the soul” in order to live a happier life.

74 Erik January 13, 2012 at 5:51 pm

I just read a phenomenal article on Willpower from the Smithsonian. If you gents enjoyed this post as much as I did, you will certainly enjoy this article.


75 Chris Hodapp January 16, 2012 at 9:10 am

I was searching for the books you quoted/referenced here and saw that http://openlibrary.org/ has freely available electronic versions of the first two (‘The Beauty of Self-Control’ and ‘Brain and Personality’):



76 Stephen January 18, 2012 at 9:15 pm

That’s a well written, extremely applicable article. Thanks.

77 Talktalk January 23, 2012 at 9:49 am

Just got to knw more about Willpower thru’ this article. Pls gw do I get to read more of yu cos I just stumbled on this. Thanx.

78 Sean Mac April 21, 2013 at 5:18 am

Ha…I read two of the books that were quoted. Great books and a great post on willpower. Lots of good books on the willpower including the above are free on Archive.com

79 Ryan July 20, 2013 at 11:51 am

When you mentioned that there are two primary things that contribute to success (intelligence and willpower), you said that willpower is the only one that we really have control over. There has been some fascinating research in recent years in “emotional intelligence,” which in many cases has been found to be even more important in determining success among people of a relatively similar IQ. It also appears that this type of intelligence is something that can be improved through diligent and insightful work. So maybe our “intelligence” can be improved. I would recommend “Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman Goleman for an introduction.

80 Jess Gocotano September 22, 2013 at 1:16 pm

I’m glad i stumbled upon this article as when i was surfing the internet aimlessly…..Who ever made this article needs to get an internet award for inspiring others…

81 Mary Esquivel October 24, 2013 at 3:38 pm

Brett and Kate, Thank you so much for this article. Just this week the Lord God was telling me that I needed to mature and put away the things that were hindering me and BAM, this article shows up in my e-mail. It’s given me directives for how to comply. It will so help me in my Christian walk because as we all know as far as willpower goes, Jesus was and is The Man. In Christ, ME

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