What's Willpower got to do with It?

Updated: Apr 9, 2019

Have you ever muscled or white-knuckled your way through something?

That’s willpower you’re using.

Willpower is Powering against our own will.

We call on willpower when we are trying to overcome the feeling of desire.

Willpower often feels uncomfortable because we use it to deny ourselves something that we think will give us pleasure.

Most people think willpower is either something you are born with or that it is an aspect of our moral character.

Phrases like “I’m out of willpower” or “I don’t have the willpower to stick to that diet” speak to this idea that willpower is a thing that is just there in us, waiting for us to use or marshal.

So let's unpack this. What is willpower?

In the literal sense, willpower is a function of the brain.

There is even a part of the brain that is responsible for willpower - the anterior cingulate cortex. It sits right behind your prefrontal cortex.

And our brain uses willpower to do a few different things - like focus, monitor tasks, regulate emotions, help us make choices.

Willpower is a limited reserve. Literally.

Have you ever thought to yourself at the end of the day “I just can’t make one more decision?” It’s because you really can’t.

Decision fatigue is a real thing and is a result of doing things that require willpower (focusing, regulating emotions, making choices).

Exerting self-control in one area of our lives uses up the precious resource of willpower, and prevents regulation of other functions.

We only have about 15 minutes of self-regulatory capacity at any given moment of the day.

Sit in a room with a warm chocolate chip cookie, and don’t allow yourself to eat it, even though you want to, for 15 minutes…. And you will have a hard time doing other regulatory brain functions, like focusing on a test for example.

Or you might go home and eat the whole pint of ice cream.

Fifteen minutes of checking email. Managing kids, doing chores, patience with the husband — no wonder why so many of us lack willpower when it comes to food or alcohol. We’ve been tapped dry!

A consideration for moms!

As a mom, you know that your children call on you to manage your own emotions on a whole new level. I mean, they really challenge us, right?

Well, as it turns out, regulating our emotions takes the biggest hit on our willpower reserserve.

That's right. When you work extra hard to manage your emotions, your willpower to resist urges (in general) depletes rapidly.

So the next time your toddler throws a tantrum in the store, and you find yourself unable to resist the chocolate chip cookie, you will know exactly what your brain is doing.

This is why it’s so important to create systems in your life that DON'T require willpower.


  • Willpower is a function of the brain (not a testament to your moral fiber.

  • Our ability to exercise willpower depletes every time we have to make a choice, exercise self-control, regulate our emotions And focus on a task.

  • Since you do these things all day long, your willpower tank will be on empty by the end of the day.


  • Make decisions ahead of time.

  • Simplify options

  • Write your plan down, and stick to it.

  • Make constraint your best friend.

  • Anticipate that your willpower reserves will be low, and decide in advance how to handle it.

Give it a try momma, and tell me how it goes!



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