Willpower 101
Making Changes that Matter
Linda Mackay and
Marilyn Perdue
Counselling Services
What is Willpower
(and where did mine go?)
• The ability to control our attention,
emotions and impulses (desires).
• The ability to act in a way that furthers
our goals, even when doing something
else seems immediately more appealing.
Willpower: Why it Matters
• Research on the Benefits include:
people are happier, healthier, have
longer more satisfying relationships,
more money, more successful
careers, better able to manage stress
and conflict, live longer.
• Self-control is a better predictor of
academic success than intelligence.
The 3 Components of Willpower
• “I will”…. Something you have been
avoiding or want to do more of (yes)
• “I won’t”…A habit you want to break (no)
• “I want”…Important life goals and things
you value (to remember what you really
Our Willpower Wiring
• Our 2 minds: 1. instincts and impulses
2. impulse, self-control
• The Prefrontal Cortex and Awareness
(doing the harder thing)
• Our Willpower Instinct: Pause and Plan
(heart rate variability)
How to Build Willpower Muscle
and Train Your Brain for Self-Control
• Five-Minute Meditation
• Breath Control
• The Relaxation Response
• Exercise and Sleep
Willpower: A Limited Resource
• The physiology of willpower exhaustion
• Stress, fatigue, poor diet, daily distractions
• Regular practice: build willpower reserves!
Willpower Pitfall Alerts
• Being “good” encourages being bad: Moral
• Feeling good and mistaking wanting for
happiness: Dopamine
“What-the-hell” effect
Willpower experiments
catch yourself (awareness)
wait 10 minutes
pre-commit to future self
anticipate traps/triggers/trip-wires
map out success path
stress-relief: practice what really works!
don’t hold a grudge: forgive and move on
a penny of pessimism vs blind optimism
The Battle with
Thoughts and Feelings
• “white bear” exercise
• avoid/run/distract/procrastinate: how’s
that working?
• ironic rebound: give up notion of control
• acceptance
Willpower Experiments
• practice noticing your thoughts, feelings
and body sensations
• accept thoughts as mental events, not
• surf the urge
• 3 part compassion practice
Your Willpower
draw your own conclusions
• how have your thoughts about your
willpower changed?
• what one thing caught your attention?
• what are you going to take with you?