Before finding ways to strengthen your willpower, you need to understand what willpower is, what it does, and how it behaves.
It draws upon your desire to accomplish something. It is most easily achieved over the short term but can drive one to extraordinary effort over the long term.
What is Willpower, and Who Has It?
What is willpower, and how does it behave? A single mom who gets up at 3 AM to feed a new baby, snatches a few more minutes of sleep after the little one is fed and sleeping, then packs baby, a breast pump and accompanying gear, and whatever she needs for work is using willpower.
A father who cooks dinner for his exhausted wife and children when he is already falling-down tired is using willpower. A baby who plonks down on his well-padded bottom, sticks out his lower lip, then gets up and tries again to walk across the big floor, is exhibiting willpower.
In short, everyone has some sort of willpower. It is what helps us get out of bed and face the day, with everything that life brings but there are always occasions when willpower doesn’t work.
There are a lot of willpower synonyms like Self-Control, Self-Discipline, Self-Restraint and many more but Kelly McGonigal defines three essential types of willpower in her book The Willpower Instinct.
Willpower consists of
- “I Will,” the things that we promise ourselves we will do;
- “I Won’t”, which involves the resistance to temptation; and
- “I want,” the things we desire to get out of life.
Willpower is the ability to accomplish even when a part of you doesn’t want to do whatever it is that you are pushing yourself to do.
Let us consider a dairy farmer who also holds a day job, as is often the case with modern farming. He rises at 4 AM, or perhaps even earlier. He calls in his dairy herd, feeds them, attaches milking machines to them, then turns them out into the feedlot where he has either positioned a large round bale of hay in a feeder or he spreads some other form of stored hay for them.
Then he snatches a breakfast, hops in his truck and heads off to work in a factory, office or store for eight hours. He comes home, repeats the feed and milk process and falls into bed.
Why? Perhaps he looks forward to the time when he can just farm or perhaps he is putting his children through college. Maybe he is working off student loan debt.
Whatever it is that he wants gives him the drive to work day after day at what is essentially two different jobs.
Why Most Of Us Struggle With A Lack Of Willpower
Now skip a generation or two and enter the Internet age. You have a day job, maybe even one that you like very much.
Maybe you are beginning to feel a little stale in it. Maybe it isn’t quite what you expected or hoped for. You find yourself daydreaming when you should be working, checking your email or Facebook page when you think the boss isn’t looking.
Maybe you stick earbuds in your ears and listen to an audio book or music, giving your work only half your attention. You know that these aren’t truly work-appropriate activities, yet you are pulled toward them to such a degree that you risk your job by doing them anyway.
Does Today’s Generation Suffer From a Lack of Self-Control?
What makes the difference? Does this younger generation just fail to develop their willpower more than former generations? Are they just giving up and saying “I have no willpower” because they cannot focus on studying or reading a book anymore.
Are they more interested in exercising “I won’t” as a declaration of not going to succumb to the boss man’s demands or is there something more at work?
No, this generation is no less ambitious, no less endowed with the spirit of “I will” than any other generation.
The answer to this seeming indifference to gainful employment and an abject addiction to the Internet, especially to social media is the result of one thing and one thing only: extremely sophisticated marketing techniques.
Social Media and Behavioral Manipulation Weaken Your Mental Willpower
These marketing techniques range from very clever behavioral modification using the “Hooked Model” to a technique that is often called “gamification.”
These techniques are organized in such a way that you can’t renew your mind any longer because you need to quickly check your email or find that you want to open your social media page and check your messages.
Maybe you want to post a pithy little comment or read that slide-by-slide story that keeps promising to give you the punch line on just the next page, but keeps stringing you along.
What Is Behavior Modification?
You’ll find this principle in many computer games and slot machines that are built to give you variable rewards. Pull the players in, give them something easy to accomplish.
Next, give them something a little harder. Reward them at each level so that they will keep coming back for more. Promise them something cool for their character, like a pet or a new costume.
Promise a cool skill for the character, if you pull out your credit card and purchase this or that little extra thing.
Now, add one more feature: the game fits into your pocket. In his book “Stand Out of Our Light” James Williams imagines a device he called the “itrainer”.
You can take it anywhere, play it in the checkout line at the grocery store, sneak it under your desk at school or at work, and just keep on poking at those things so you can get that cool widget. It is no wonder that people like Tristan Harris describe the smartphone as a slot machine.
You Know it Isn’t Good For You
In your heart of hearts you know that adding another cool badge to your display page or getting another hat for your character will do absolutely nothing to get more willpower.
But somehow your need for that particular widget, widget being an all-purpose term for an object of any sort, has become the thing that you absolutely must have. It crowds out your real life goals, such as paying off debt, taking care of family, or writing a novel.
You Don’t Have Less Willpower
Well, here’s a news bulletin. It isn’t because you have any less willpower and determination than your grandfather or grandmother. It is because companies like Facebook and Google have become exceptionally good at pulling you into this their environment.
You are bombarded from all sides with enticing things designed to suck (pun intended) you in and keep you playing.
How to Develop Willpower - The Science Behind Behavior Modification
Modern advertisers and game designers are familiar with some of the brain chemistry studies that dictate our responses to situations.
One of the big changes is increased blood flow to the pleasure centers of the brain while playing and having success while playing a computer game.
Extra large amounts of dopamine are released and remain as a sort of residue, creating sluggish responses to stimulation that should have created a similar release.
Another chemical, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is also released. This one is of concern because it inhibits neurotransmission, especially in the pleasure center of the brain.
When too much is released, it can lead to anxiety and depression. With suicide on the rise as one of the leading causes of death for young people, who are the ones most likely to be addicted to their cell phone or other media, it is of more than a little concern.
They Aren’t Out to “Get” You, They Just Want to Make Money
To their credit, game creators are not “out to get you”, other than to get you to buy their game and toys associated with the game.
They have learned that puzzles and tasks that challenge but don’t overwhelm their users encourage them to continue playing to get to the next challenge and the next reward.
In and of itself, that is not a completely bad thing. We do it in real life all the time. We accept a challenge, we meet it, we get the reward in the form of a paycheck, medal or recognition, and we move on to the next challenge with a gladdened heart.
The big difference is that when we strive for a goal and achieve it in the real world, we have something tangible to show for it.
When you complete a game or when you reach the apex level available until the makers create the next level, you might have a cool costume for your character, or you might have a badge to display on your home page, but you have nothing that you can hold in your hand and say, “This is mine. I made it.”
Worse yet, if you had a stronger will you could have used your time to have a cleaner house, completed laundry, a degree or a paycheck.
The Real Downside of Low Self-Control
An article from Medium.com explains the problem very well.
It divides people into two groups: those who create new material – the skilled creators, the SCs, and those who replicate material – the replicative creators, or RCs. We could easily add a third group, the consumers, who do not create original material or even replicative material but instead use things created by others.
Why is this important?
Very simply, if our SCs, or Skilled Creators, are being trained to be replicative creators through the use of social media, then we will soon be out of fresh material that can be used by the replicative creators, and following that same train of logic, there will not be any new material for consumers.
When the material becomes stale, users wander away from a product looking for something fresh and new.
Intervention to Kick the Internet Habit and Increase your Willpower
There is hope. You can kick the Internet habit and increase your self-control. Most people they do not break their bad Internet habits on their own.
Intervention was required. You might not be able to separate yourself completely from your cell phone or your internet connection, especially if you are taking online classes while working toward a degree or your occupation requires that you spend time at your computer.
However, tools such as FindFocus give you the ability to block social media and other websites that devour your time and attention without suffering from FOMO.
Facebook, Twitter, and similar items can play a game of “tag, we have your attention, Ha,Ha!” with your unprotected Internet browser, but FindFocus allows you to set the websites necessary for study or work and block the others.
Give Your Best You a Chance to Be In Control
FindFocus can help, and you won’t have to pay out the kind of money required for an expensive therapist to do it.
It allows you to use your willpower when your mind is freshest and you are most in control to set up the parameters you know that you need to use to do your best work.
By giving you a good mental space in which to work, FindFocus allows you the chance to become a skilled creator and enhances the times when you need to be a replicative creator.