Life continuously tests our willpower. It’s inevitable: On Day 1 of your diet, you walk into work to find a plate of fresh chocolate cream donuts from your favorite bakery staring at you. Your half-marathon is quickly approaching, and you haven’t mustered the motivation to begin your training program. You’ve been meaning to quit smoking for some time but you’re dragging your feet on making it a priority. After a long day on the job, you plop down on the couch and fight your daily battle of Netflix versus the gym.
Willpower is not an easy skill to master; however, it’s hard to meet our performance or weight-loss goals, advance in our careers or better ourselves without it. We reached out to several professionals who seem to have the whole willpower thing dialed in to bring you their favorite techniques for resisting those daily temptations and finding the motivation to do the things bogging down our to-do lists
Kelsey Robinson, professional indoor volleyball player and 2016 Olympic bronze medalist for Team USA, knows a way to build willpower is to not take things too seriously. “I try to make everything I do a game. Whether I’m weightlifting and really exhausted on the third set or if I’m going somewhere where the food will be super indulgent and negatively impactful on my performance, I’m always trying to push myself and challenge myself in a competitive way,” she says. “This helps motivate me to be better and to work harder on and off the court. It challenges me, which makes it fun!”
Patti Johnson, a Los Angeles-based licensed psychologist, is quick to tell her patients willpower is extremely difficult to master, even for a trained mental health professional such as herself. Discipline, on the other hand, is much easier to come by. “I believe that cultivating willpower is overrated. It’s better to focus on cultivating discipline,” she explains. To help her patients grasp this concept, she has come up with the following example: “Willpower is buying your favorite candy a week before Halloween and then trying not to eat it. Discipline is not buying it until the day of Halloween and then buying a type you don’t like. Trying to succeed with willpower alone isn’t very effective. Add discipline, and you eliminate the struggle.”
It’s important to hone in on exactly what it is you want to accomplish. “To say no when you need to say no, and yes when you need to say yes, you need a third power: the ability to remember what you really want,” says Kelly McGonigal, Stanford psychologist and author of “The Willpower Instinct.” “I know, you think that what you really want is the brownie, the third martini or the day off, but when you’re facing temptation or flirting with procrastination, you need to remember that what you really want is to fit into your skinny jeans, get the promotion, get out of credit card debt, stay in your marriage … Otherwise, what’s going to stop you from following your immediate desires?”
Chris Hodges, who runs GoTRIBE, a global personal training company, knows sticking to a diet or exercise regimen can be daunting. To combat this, he encourages his clients to find a way to hold themselves accountable for the steps necessary to meet their goals. “Personal willpower is at its strongest when coupled with accountability. Whether that’s a friend, a fitness app or a journal, it’s a lot easier to have strong willpower when we track our goals,” he says.
As a former NFL player and the current director of the Dallas Cowboys Academy, Terrence Wheatley’s entire career has been centered around his ability to tap into his willpower. “It’s the single most important skill an athlete can have; the ability to have perseverance is what separates the average Joe from the true elite in sports,” he explains. The pro football alum stresses, however, that to get to the top, you have to ignore those who tell you that you won’t make it. “Willpower is not something you are born with, it is a skill that must be learned. We live in a world where we are told that we can’t be great. Well, if you have willpower, you have the one skill that allows you as an athlete to say ‘yes I can.’ Willpower allows any athlete to achieve greatness because to be in that 1% you must be great at everything, not just one thing. Willpower is that 1%.”
READ MORE > LACK OF WILLPOWER MIGHT NOT BE TO BLAME WHEN DIETS FAIL
As a professional skier, Bernie Rosow is constantly pushing himself to new heights. Luckily, he has a tool to help him get there. “For me, skiing is all about a combination of confidence, visualization and skill. To have the willpower to try a new trick or ski a hard line, all three of those things need to line up.” Before tackling a new slope, the freeskier puts himself in a mental state where he feels he will succeed. “I like to visualize new tricks in first and third person,” he explains. “I practice the tricks I know to create muscle memory awareness. All of this comes together to create confidence and confidence can be the hardest part in finding the willpower to push yourself.”