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Is Willpower Biased?

Posted Nov 16 2009 10:02pm

by Brett Blumenthal

Throughout my lifetime, I think I’ve been able to maintain strong willpower over various things.  Sometimes it was specific to diet  and exercise , other times it was specific to relationships, and other times, it was specific to ‘doing the right thing’ even when I desperately didn’t want to.  That said, I have had moments where my willpower was less than stellar. 

Every person has different degrees of willpower, and for that matter, different ways of fueling it to stay as strong as possible.  For some it might be faith based, while for others it might be an ideology; and for others, it might be rooted in how they were raised.  But what is interesting, is how willpower can be strong…very strong…in certain situations, and weak in others.  As a result, I would say willpower is biased. 

Take Sally for instance.  She is attractive and fun, loves to socialize and has a great career.  When it comes to doing things for her health, she doesn’t really have a great amount of willpower: she puts off exercise  and tends to indulge in unhealthy foods .  When it comes to doing the chores instead of watching her favorite TV shows, she has great determination in getting the work done before even contemplating sitting in front of the TV. 

To me, this is biased willpower.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could translate or for that matter, reallocate willpower?  Here are some ideas:

  1. Figure out What Motivates You: If you can figure out what motivates you to reach a goal or to stay resilient, you can use that as your willpower device.  E.g.: If you hate to exercise, but are desperately trying to lose weight, think about how great you will look and how great you will feel.
  2. Build up your Willpower where it is Weak: Taking an all or nothing approach to having willpower is often self-defeating.  Take small steps in those areas that you feel like you have no willpower.  Stay strong for something small and slowly build up to something big.  Small changes over time can have a great end result.  E.g., If giving up all of your favorite foods seems like a horrible quest, try cutting back one or two unhealthy foods each week.
  3. Practice Saying No: If you can’t say no to things or people, practice.  The more you say no and set boundaries, the easier it gets. E.g., If you are the go-to person at work and always take on more than you can handle, start turning things/people away. 
  4. Be True to Yourself: If you are confronted with situations that are unhealthy or devaluing, but you are afraid to make a change, reach deep down and believe in your value system to guide you in making the right choice.  E.g., If you are in a bad relationship that is abusive, believe in yourself and your value and use your inner strength to remove yourself from the situation.

I’m not sure any of this works, but I thought I’d throw these out there.  Do you find that your willpower is biased?  What do you do to muster up willpower in those areas that you need more?

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