Willpower and SelfControl. We’ve all heard of it, talked about it and even wished for it, but what is it exactly? What is the difference between willpower and self-control?
Why do some people have no willpower?
There is only one thing that is certain. All of us could use a lot more of it.
If I could take a guess, you are probably looking for synonyms of willpower because you want to write about it in one way or another.
In this post you will find 22 different words for willpower and all the information you need to understand the concept completely.
Let me start with a short tale.
The yogi was simply acting on his values rather than giving in to short-term needs or desires. He had the ability to do what matters most to him, even when it’s difficult or when some part of him did not want to.
What Are Synonyms for Willpower? 15 Alternative Words From the Thesaurus
Let’s examine what the website thesaurus.com says about willpower., considering not only the definition of the words but also their implication.
Thesaurus.com defines willpower as personal determination and lists 15 other words for it.
- Firmness - This is often used in reference to parents, teachers or others who are in a position of authority, as in “the teacher was kind, but firm. He might explain but did not change the rules.”
- Grit - Can you possibly think of this without the mental image of Rooster Cogburn with reins in his teeth and pistols in both hands? But it can also apply to a homesteader resolutely pushing a broad-bladed plough into the ground.
- Self-Control - Something grandparents who love both their children and their grandchildren learn to practice, as in, “I might think these things, but I will not say them. I could give my child a piece of my mind, but it would just mean not seeing the grandkids for the next month.” It's no coincidence that's there is a popular app to block websites on your Mac when you want to take a break from Facebook.
- Self-Discipline - Don’t confuse this with punishment. This means doing the things you should do when they should be done without someone else telling you to do it. Parents sing praises to Whomever when their children begin to practice this virtue.
- Discipline - A runner who gets up each morning and jogs two or three miles before breakfast is displaying discipline. A graduate student who spends two hours every day in study, shows discipline. It means doing the things that are hard so that you can get better at them. It is not a synonym for punishment.
- Drive - Buffy the Vampire Slayer in Once More with Feeling, the Buffy series musical, sang “going through the motions, losing all my drive,” because after being resurrected somehow things just weren’t the same. Drive is what motivates us, keeps us on track. People who have experienced extreme unconsciousness and been revived sometimes exhibit changes in the way they approach life.
- Fixity - What was yesterday, is today and shall be tomorrow. To cling unwavering to the same actions, habits, and goals. Good? Sometimes, but maybe not always. You must admit, it does exhibit willpower.
- Force - “May the Force be with you.” Thank you, George Lucas, for a phrase that endures and turns up on coffee cups, greeting cards and T-shirts, both in its original format and in parody. In that usage, it must have an initial capital letter because it refers to the indwelling of a higher power. It can also, however, refer to using sheer muscle power to make something happen, to over-power something, or to have the strength and energy to persistently pursue an action.
- Resolution - He resolved to pay his debts and to re-roof the house before the year was out. A resolution refers to an internal decision to do something and to then stick to that decision.
- Resolve - The verb form of resolution. See above.
- Self-Government - Behaving as a law-abiding citizen without oversight from legal authority. Or, alternatively, doing the right thing without laws or regulations.
- Self-Restraint - The student sat on his hands and did not punch the principal for his prejudice, although the remarks the man made about his mother pushed the boy’s self-restraint to the limits. Refraining from wrong or harmful action, or from inappropriate commentary in spite of a strong desire to respond emotionally.
- Single-Mindedness - See fixity. Sticking to a single course of action or way of thought without deviating from it.
- Strength - The ability to continue a course of action, even when it becomes hard.
- Will - The ability to determine a course of action and to see it through.
7 Other Words for Willpower from Other Sources:
Now, those are the official thesaurus words. But here are a few more words that can also indicate willpower:
- Guts - Guts are the colloquial term for the stomach and intestines. They often figure into descriptions of how someone responds to a situation. “His guts turned to water” is a phrase, for example, that indicates fear. A bully might taunt someone, “Ah, I knew you didn’t have the guts to do it.”
- Intestinal Fortitude - The polite way of saying “guts.”
- Motivation: What’s the difference between willpower and motivation? Motivation is the reason for acting or behaving in a particular way. It’s what causes a you to want to repeat a behaviour. You need willpower to act on your motivation.
- Stubbornness - A parent might look at a child who has a lower lip stuck out and looks as if he or she might throw a temper tantrum and say to the other parent, “That stubborn streak comes from your side of the family.” But shear, dogged stubbornness can get many an author or grad student through a long night of writing.
- Gumption - A grandmother would sometimes say, “I’ve just got to get up the gumption to go do it.” Or (in reference to someone who just didn’t seem quite with the program) “Well, he never did have much gumption.
- Oppositional Defiance - Refusing direction. It doesn’t have the nice ring that willpower has, but you must admit that the kid who defies all rules despite everything you can do certainly has willpower.
- Obstinance - Refusing to cooperate. Not following directions, defying rules. See stubbornness and oppositional defiance. What do we call the stubborn, oppositional defiant children of today? There is a good chance that we will call them leaders tomorrow. While school children might win prizes or certificates for excellent behavior in school, the CEO’s and entrepreneurs are the ones who can use the information handed them by the school and use it to think constructively outside the box. The best classroom teachers are those who can channel their students’ willful energy, curiosity and desire for freedom into lifelong learning.
The History of The Word Willpower
Modern cognitive neuroscientists see willpower as a fundamental part of the human brain. There are competing parts of your brain that think about the world differently and that respond to willpower challenges differently.
But the word “will” has both literary and philosophical referents, as well. For example, a common Christian phrase for accepting situations that cannot or should not be changed is “Not my will, but thine, oh Lord.”
This can be sharply contrasted with the neo-pagan or Wiccan Rede as it is sometimes called, “An it harm none, do as you will.”
Or even a famous or infamous (depending upon point of view) position taking by followers of Aleister Crowley, “Will shall be the whole of the Law, Love under Will.”
Each of these attitudes toward will or will power, or free will, constitute the basis for very different approaches to life and living.
These are, in many ways, simplistic, distilled ways of looking at will. The Buddhist philosophy takes a longer, more roundabout approach.
An article by Domyo Burk, “Willpower and the Buddhist Perfection of Virya (energy)” ends with a little story that is remarkably applicable to many situations involving will or will power.
Back in the 1960s, the word willpower revolved around personal determination and perception, summed up in the slogan, “If it feels good, do it.”
It doesn’t take too much imagination to understand where that viewpoint would and did take a generation of flower children who didn’t really expect to live past age thirty anyway.
It was soon replaced with the bewilderment of the seventies and the hard-line pragmatism of the 1980s.
What’s the Best Book on Willpower?
Everyone has willpower. According to Kelly McGonigal, author of The Willpower Instinct, there are three aspects of willpower. They are “I will,” “I won’t” and “I want.” Usually, these are easy to define and identify.
If you are asking “How-scientifically accurate is Kelly McGonigal’s book?"
Let’s start with mentioning that she has her own Wikipedia article and is a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University. At this elite university she is known for translating insights from psychology and neuroscience into practical strategies that support health and well-being.
She defines willpower “as the ability to do what matters most, even when it’s difficult or when some part of you doesn’t want to.”
I have read her book multiple times and tried to translate her insights into developing the FindFocus software. If you don’t know anything about the software.
But instead of using the example of Internet Addition to summarize The Willpower Instinct, take a smoker who has been told he or she is in the early stages of cancer.
Why Is Willpower Such a Struggle?
Someone who is addicted to cigarettes might say:
- I will quit smoking by using an electronic e-cigarette.
- I won’t smoke tobacco cigarettes.
- I want to be healthy.
Unfortunately, there are several parts to the addiction to tobacco cigarettes. There is the physical addiction to nicotine, which can be assuaged with the e-cigarettes, patches or nicotine gum.
There is also the feel, taste and sensation of smoking the user’s habitual brand of cigarettes. In some cases, there are additives in the tobacco besides nicotine that can have an adverse health effect.
Finally, there are associations of taste, companionship and even memories that are associated with smoking. That’s a lot of baggage to try to fold into a plastic tube and heated chemicals.
“I will” and “I won’t” are two easy sides of the same coin. They are easy to state, easy to define. It is the third part, the “I want” that is usually the sticking point. The difficulty lies in whether “I want to be healthy” is a stronger statement than “I really want a real cigarette.”
McGonigal notes that part of this process is identifying the real want. The real want could conflict with the stated want. When this is true, it undermines the will to succeed. The other difficulty is that your resistance to temptation grows weaker when you are tired, hungry or sleep deprived.
When you know your triggers, the things that make it harder to carry out your resolve, then you can plan for them and make it easier to exert your willpower and to direct it toward your stated goal.
Willpower, Study and Writing
There is no place where the need for gumption, intestinal fortitude and sheer, dogged will count more than in a self-directed activity such as writing.
Even graduate and post-graduate college classwork pales by comparison. If you are a writer, you will get tired. You will get hungry. You will need to do laundry, mop the kitchen floor and do dishes.
You will want to spend time with friends and family, to check your email, to see what is new on Facebook or Twitter.
You will want to play your new computer game or make a new sweater or paint a picture.
In short, you will want to do almost anything to avoid that blank page or computer screen.
Lacking Willpower? Don’t Give Up, I’m Here to Help
One of the beautiful things about our modern age of computers is that for every problem, there is probably a software solution.
It isn’t a substitute for willpower, but it can help you sort out your real want from your stated want. It can help by reminding you what you are supposed to be doing instead of what you are doing. Programs such as FindFocus can offer distraction free web browsing.
FindFocus places you in control of which websites you see when, and even block those sites you never want to see again. It can help you plan a Pomodoro based workflow so you get more done, have more time to do the things you enjoy, and therefore have less conflict between the small things you want to do now and the big thing you really want to happen in the end.
It feels great when you and your willpower win.