Do you want to improve your willpower? Or do you think you haven’t got any? Chances are you do, even if it needs a bit of a boost from time to time. Take steps to improve it, and make it easy to achieve your goals. The “marshmallow study” shows that having willpower has a knock-on effect in many areas of life. In this study, some four and five-year-olds were told they could have one sweet now or two later. Then they were left alone with the single sweet.

Most ate it either straight away or within a couple of minutes. Those who waited and got two also performed better at school, were healthier, and were more popular with their peers. When they got older they did better in exams and were more likely to go to University. Walter Mischel, who did the study, believed it was because they were more self-disciplined. You can watch the marshmallow experiment here…

People who eat healthily, quit smoking without support, or get things done without procrastination rarely have a constant fight with their willpower. They set up their lives so that making the right choice is the easiest one. Here are some top tips for doing that. 

  • Avoid constantly telling yourself you have no willpower. It tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy! Consider your willpower not to be lacking, so much as misdirected. At present, it keeps you from achieving your goals. You need to turn it around so it helps you achieve them.
  • Be realistic in what you want your willpower to achieve, and plan to make it easier for yourself. There is no point in trying to follow a strict diet in a house full of leftover Christmas goodies. Once they are gone, there is less temptation.
  • Set small interim goals that take you towards your main goal but are relatively easy to carry out. This helps to improve your willpower. For example, replace one drink of alcohol, coffee or tea a day with something healthier. Exercise once or twice a week, and cut out your takeaway alternate weeks. It will be easier to improve this later than to plunge into a completely different lifestyle right from the start.
  • Willpower is easier with specific goals. ‘I want to lose weight/get more done’ is too vague. How much do you want to lose, and by when? Be clear in your goals. Know what you want and how to get it.
  • Reward yourself as you reach each step of your goal. It’s easier to remain motivated if you know you are working towards something good. (Even the kids with good willpower would have eaten the sweet if waiting didn’t get them any benefits!)
  • Accept that your willpower is not infinite. Choose to use it for what’s most important and don’t overwhelm yourself with too many competing demands.
  • Habits are behaviours we carry out without thinking about, and they take no willpower at all. You don’t need to improve your willpower if you make your goal into a habit.
  • Sometimes what looks like a lack of willpower is something more. Working out what’s holding you back and why can be helpful. Hypnotherapy can be really useful here, as it helps you look into your unconscious mind and remove the blockages.
  • Get a support network, either casual like friends or family, or professional, like a hypnotherapist, to keep you on track.
  • If something goes wrong, think of it as a temporary setback rather than a failure of willpower. If you eat a bun or takeaway whilst on a diet you don’t need to wait till next Monday to ‘start again’. Start again now.
  • Learn from the past – ask what makes your willpower fail. How can you avoid that pitfall or strengthen your willpower to deal with it better?
  • Emil Coue, who developed the use of affirmations, said that we feel bad when there is a battle between will and emotion. You can use your willpower to force change, but if your emotions are pushing you in the other direction, it’s impossible. As a hypnotherapist, I’d call these the conscious and unconscious minds, but it works in the same way. It’s one reason hypnotherapy supports change so well. It goes directly to the unconscious mind and removes the resistance.
  • How much willpower does it take to avoid jumping off a tall building or into a pool filled with hungry sharks? None, of course, because you have powerful reasons not to do those things. Find powerful reasons to reach your goals, and you’ll find it easier to get there.

If you think hypnotherapy can help you improve your willpower, do get in touch.

Author: Debbie Waller is a professional therapist, specialising in stress, anxiety and related issues, including gut-directed hypnotherapy to help with the symptoms of IBS. She also offers EMDR/Blast which is used for trauma, PTSD, phobias and OCD. For more information on any of these services, phone 01977 678593. 

Researcher: Rae Waller is an experienced researcher and writer with a special interest in mental health issues. Rae offers drafting, fact-checking, proofreading, and editing for anything from a leaflet to a website, a blog or a book, and can also provide diversity reading, especially for LGBTQ+ and autism-related issues. Please contact for further information.