Good intentions are simply good intentions unless they become action. Creating healthy behaviours needs an action plan that has a specific goal that you can measure, one that’s achievable, related to your needs and has a time commitment. We call it a SMART goal. But how do we stick to it?

Willpower is not the same as stubbornness, although a feisty two-year old may argue the point! Willpower is the determination to make something “real” despite challenges and adversity. It is saying “no” to that late-night snack and saying “yes” to a walk in the rain.  Willpower is the drive to resist short term temptations in order to succeed at long term goals. But, it can’t stay turned on 100% of the time or it will fade, we call that “willpower fatigue”.  

Willpower is like a DJ playing music; there are times when it is all you hear and it motivates you to burn up the dance floor and other times when it is in the background and you focus elsewhere and sit out the next dance.

People who are able to sense and then act on their emotional responses show longer lasting willpower to achieve their goals.

Ways to Increase Willpower

  1. Choose one SMART goal at a time and make sure it’s something you are confident you can do.

How confident are you that you can achieve your goal on a scale of 1-10

If you are a 7 or above, you are likely going to make that goal a reality. If you are below a 7, rethink the plan and the barriers that are making you uncertain.

2. Avoid known temptations. There is a shopping list and a no-shopping list!

3. Strength comes from praise. When you achieve something, praise yourself, tell others, this strengthens your perception that you can do it.

I took a healthy lunch break today, I got this. “

4. Train your willpower like a muscle, load and recovery. You have to balance the drive to succeed with the need to replenish and relax.

5. Delay gratification.

Researcher Walter Mischel conducted the famous Marshmallow test where kids were asked to choose between a sweet treat now or two treats if they waited 15 minutes. The real science came in correlating success as adults with the ability to delay immediate reward and instead focus on long term reward.

What if you Fail

Re-frame your failure as Good, not bad. The rainbow in the storm.

Learn from your experience; revise and reset your goals

Practice Self Compassion.

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

Carl Rogers, Psychologist

Predict your failures and plan for them.

Chocolate is my weakness, I will buy a mini chocolate bar and if I can’t delay or avoid chocolate, I will accept a 20 second failure with my mini bar.

Can Willpower overcome the effects of adversity?

This question is key to research around physical and psychological trauma and why some experience after affects and others seem to carry on. Resilience has been identified as a key protector against prolonged psychological stress and those who have willpower have resilience. The common factors between willpower and resilience are crucial; perspective on goal setting, sharing your journey with others, finding reward in your achievements and being optimistic about success

Movie Critic: Stories of Willpower

Erin Brockovich: Erin didn’t have much going for her except for willpower and determination.

Darkest Hour: The story of Winston Churchill leading up to D-Day and the determination that changed the world.

Norma Rae: A powerful story of an ordinary woman taking an extraordinary stand.

Fight Club: “This is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time” – The Narrator

The Pursuit of Happyness: This awe inspiring story will get you through your tough times.


This article gives some history on the psychological theories of Willpower and how to train your skills

We all have failure, it’s a requirement for success.

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