Research has shown that willpower is like a muscle – the more you train it, the more powerful it becomes.
In a study published last year, Dr. Mark Muraven at the University of Albany had a subset of participants spend two weeks practising acts of self-control. these were things like resisting eating unhealthy food. These participants subsequently excelled at tests of self-control compared with their own baseline performance. By contrast, no such improvement was observed among control participants who merely spent the same time completing maths problems, a task which, although boring and challenging, doesn’t depend on the ability to resist impulses.
I realised this concept of “building your willpower muscle” underpins the latest campaign here on Australian TV about stopping smoking called “Never Give Up Giving Up”.
People will only change their behaviour if they feel it’s worth it (motivation) and they know they can do it (ability). Studies like this are really showing that will power is not something we are born with, but something we can develop, i.e. an ability we can learn.
This ability to develop and practise skills around willpower is therefore a key elements in helping people develop the ability to create real, meaningful and sustainable change. For any ex-smokers like myself out there, I am sure you have all got your own stories about how you failed a few times to give up before you finally succeeded. We now know this was just us building our willpower muscle!