How to train your willpower muscle

Willpower is like a muscle, the more you train it, the stronger it gets!

MacKenzie Miller in Crow pose

Defining willpower

Let’s define willpower for a moment. There are a few words that come to mind when we think of willpower – self-control, determination, self-discipline, drive and resolve. A more modern definition, which is in line with this article is:

The ability to delay gratification through short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.

In the same way that we can train and grow our muscles, with the right approach, willpower is also something that can we can develop and strengthen.

The benefits of well-trained willpower

People who maintain a good level of self-control, who know what is good for them and are able to make healthy choices, as a result, seem to have better relationships, tend to achieve more career success, and enjoy healthier lives. To me this seems to imply that willpower is more important than talent and intelligence. Without willpower, being talented and intelligent may not mean so much. Your life can still be all over the place and you can be very unhappy with all that talent and intelligence.

Each time we make a decision, like what we are going to eat, if and when we are going to practise yoga, or when we go to bed, we are exercising our willpower muscle, which is basically a part of our brain. Of course, you can also overwork your willpower muscle; like any other muscle, it can get exhausted and stop working properly.

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Keep your willpower healthy

There are a few basic things we need to take care of, to keep this part of ourselves (our brain) healthy and functioning well:

  • good nutrition
  • plenty of water
  • plenty of sleep
  • proper breaks to take a few conscious breaths.

These 4 pillars form a key part of the foundation to enable you to exercise willpower in your life. If your relationship with one of them is problematic, exercising your willpower muscle will be significantly more difficult, perhaps even impossible!

Willpower is like a bank account

If you view your willpower reserves like a bank account then you could imagine that each activity would either add to or draw from it. Any activity that makes you feel good and positive and gives you energy adds to it. Any activity that is hard for you, even though in the long-term you know its the right thing to do, draws from it. So doing yoga or relaxation will add to your ‘bank account’. 

You need enough credit on your account, to handle the withdrawal! Remember to start with enough healthy food, proper breaks, hydration and good sleep.

The moment in which you find exercising your willpower becomes really difficult might be a reminder for you to put some extra ‘reserves’ in the bank account. So think what you can do for yourself on a daily basis that adds to the account.

Accepting what is

It’s also really important to work on accepting life more, not wanting life to be different so much of the time. You can think about the word 鈥渨elcoming鈥. When I welcome a mind-state or a situation, my mind relaxes and my inner resources are easier to access. You could try saying to yourself:

I can act, instead of react!

Acting is a conscious decision to act or even do nothing in a specific situation.
Reacting is an unconscious reaction to a situation, usually not the reaction that you are happy with.

Practicing willpower from a place of acceptance

Trying to exercising your willpower from a place of acceptance and positivity will certainly work much better than trying to exercise your willpower from a negative place. Any resolution you make motivated by a negative emotion or mind-state, like disappointment, or shame, will simply not work.

First, put yourself in a positive frame of mind, practice some self-compassion, find a positive reason you want to do something, and add some reserves to your bank account. Then perhaps see if you can work with your willpower.

The most important thing of all is this: Don鈥檛 fall into the trap of believing you are not good enough as you are. You are good enough, you are perfect the way you are, it’s only the mind that believes differently. There is no need to believe the mind, all of the time.

Good luck and love,


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Esther EkhartEsther Ekhart, face and founder of EkhartYoga, brings years of personal yoga and meditation practice, therapy training and study of yoga philosophy into her teaching.