How willpower and self discipline can help you achieve the life you’ve always wanted.
In the hit cult-comedy Napoleon Dynamite, class-president-hopeful Pedro Sanchez stands before the student body and monotonously intones, “If you vote for me, all of your wildest dreams will come true.”
Ah, yes, if only life was that easy—then each of us could simply cast our vote for Pedro and have six-pack abs, a million bucks in the bank and be the proud parent of three beautiful Students of the Month.
Well, unfortunately Pedro isn’t real. So, with no magic “Easy Button” to push, we must find a realistic, concrete way to attain the fulfillment of our dreams—maybe not our wildest dreams but certainly practical ones that can improve and possibly prolong our lives.
Willpower & Motivation: The Key To Realizing Dreams
Believe it or not, having our dreams come true is quite similar to the simple act of getting out of bed each morning. When our alarm clocks go off, we have a decision to make each day: Do we get up, or do we stay in bed and sleep another hour or two?
Our response to those simple questions is determined by our willpower. Our will chooses to get up and go to work or start our day at home—or it chooses to sleep on. And our willpower is driven by our motivation. Simply put, are we motivated enough to get out of bed when the alarm sounds?
If we choose to get up and go to work, what is our motivation? For the vast majority of Americans, we work to have money, because money provides food, shelter, clothing, transportation and all our other basic and not-so-basic needs. Our motivation is that we must work if we want to live a comfortable life.
Psychologists have long known that motivation is the key factor when it comes to changing or controlling human actions. In fact, the study of motivation partially came about in the early 20th century as advertisers of goods sought to “control” the minds of prospective clients through manipulating their desires or motivations. Researchers then surmised that it only makes sense—if masses of people can be affected to change their actions by manipulating their motivation (buy my product instead of my competitor’s), then it can also be done on an individual scale.
They determined that by manipulating our own minds through the use of internal or external motivation, each of us could control our actions, and thereby attain our goals or dreams.
Take those six-pack abs, for example.
Look around; for a large part of the American population, it isn’t “Why don’t I have six-pack abs?” It’s more like “Where are my abs?” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of Americans are obese, one out of 10 have full-blown diabetes and another three out of 10 have prediabetes.
So, in toning up those abs, we can also drop some unneeded weight and possibly avert heart disease and a host of other health problems. Well, why is it that we can’t count those ab muscles? We’ve read countless articles and watched endless health shows telling us exactly what to eat and what not to eat and most of us have a nice collection of workout videos gathering dust in that cabinet by the TV. So why aren’t we tone and fit?
“I know that I need to eat right, and I know I need to exercise, but I just don’t have it in me to do it,” says Ocala resident Lisa Smith. “I work in the food industry, and every day I see overweight people that I know are just a heart attack waiting to happen. I mean, I know that I need to make changes now, but I just don’t have the self-control to do what’s right.”
Smith is in her mid-40s, and she says she can sense that her metabolism is changing. She’s exactly right, now is the time she needs to be more careful than ever. But, like millions of Americans, she just doesn’t have the discipline required to change her diet and increase her amount of exercise. What will it take to help her and millions of others finally make permanent changes that will become an established part of their daily routine?
The answer is willpower fueled by the proper motivation. In the same way that a chocolate-candy commercial can motivate us to rush right out and buy a candy bar, if we search hard enough we can discover just what will motivate us to make those permanent healthy changes in our lifestyles. It is motivation that provides the spark willpower needs to initiate long-lasting change. Psychologists used to think that humans were born with a certain amount of willpower, but, the good news is, research shows that self-control can be learned.
The Importance Of Motivation
“Every year I make New Year’s resolutions, and it never fails that No. 1 on the list is to lose weight and exercise,” says Smith. “I’ve even bought a gym membership to encourage myself to exercise. Any self-control I have lasts about a month, two months at the most, and then when I fall off the wagon, I get depressed and end up worse off than when I started.”
Smith is like most of us. According to information compiled by the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey, more than half of all Americans resolve to lose weight and improve their health each year. Overwhelmingly they fail to meet their objectives. When asked why they fail, the most common response is lack of willpower.
At its most basic level, willpower is simply the ability to control our own thoughts and actions in order to resist immediate temptation so that we can achieve a long-term goal. So, how can we cultivate this ability in our lives?
The first step is to realize its importance. According to research done at George Mason University, people with greater-than-usual amounts of willpower excel in almost every aspect of life. They have higher grades, better jobs, greater financial stability, better interpersonal relationships—they even enjoy better-than-average mental and physical health.
Yes, it’s that important, and now that science has shown us that willpower is fueled by motivation and that both these traits are within our control, it is up to us to learn the new behaviors that will make us successful in life.
Motivate Yourself & Increase Your Willpower
There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation comes from within, and extrinsic motivation comes from an outside source. Take attending school for example. Trying to get an A in class would be a form of extrinsic motivation because it is an external reward, while our fear of failure that comes from flunking out of school would be an intrinsic motivator.
How can you motivate yourself, from either within or without to attain the goals you set for your life?
First, determine specifically what your goal will be, and then seek the perfect motivator needed to strengthen your willpower to attain it.
Do you want to lose weight? What will be your best motivator? For some people, it might be as simple as buying a pair of jeans in a smaller size that they would love to wear and then working their way into them. For others, it might even be purchasing a gym membership that will surround them with likeminded people. (Just because it didn’t work for Smith doesn’t mean it won’t work for you.) While others still might be focusing on the health concerns that come with obesity. If you are concerned about heart disease, you could possibly volunteer in some capacity where you can work with people suffering from the effects of heart disease so you can witness firsthand the disability it produces. This may seem to be a rather intense motivator, but if this is what it takes to motivate you, then it may be necessary.
Just remember, this may not be an instant process. You must search carefully for the motivator that will work specifically for you. My father smoked for more than 45 years until the day my 4-year-old son asked him to quit—for him. Dad had tried to quit smoking at least 20 times following three heart attacks and the onset of emphysema, all to no avail. However, when his grandson looked into his eyes and asked him to quit so he would have a longer life to spend with him, it worked. It was my father’s perfect motivator. His motivation had to be the extrinsic urging of his grandson.
It’s Up To You!
You know all the basics when it comes to making your wildest dreams come true: Eat healthy; exercise; eschew bad habits, such as smoking, illicit drug use or excessive alcohol use; be positive; get plenty of sleep; fill your life with laughter; do all things in moderation and the list goes on. Now you must realize that doing these things that will make you mentally and physically healthy require discipline and motivation.
Realizing goals requires strict self-discipline, and the key word here is self. You are the most important ingredient in your dream-quest. No one can make the needed changes except you. In a world of 7.6 billion people, only one of them truly has the power to change your life—the person staring back at you in the mirror each day. You must set your goals, you must find your perfect motivator and you must exercise your willpower. At the end of the day, it’s all up to you.