How to Build Your Willpower Muscle


Continuing with the recent theme on our blog of creating a training habit, this post is about using your psychology to your advantage.

Willpower is like a muscle.

In the gym, your muscles become fatigued with each repetition of an exercise; so the more reps you do, the more fatigued your muscles become.

Your willpower works in a similar way.

The more decisions you make throughout the course of a day the more fatigued your willpower becomes. 

These decisions can be mundane (like the clothes you choose to wear), to the extreme (like deciding to quit your job).  

When your willpower is depleted, it becomes much harder to consciously make healthy choices.

In 1998, Baumeister and colleagues ran some of the first experiments demonstrating the impact of ego depletion. In their experiment, they showed that subjects who initially resisted the temptation of a chocolate dessert eventually caved after trying to complete a difficult and frustrating puzzle. 

We all know the feeling when we come home after a long day of work or school and don't have the motivation to workout or eat a healthy dinner. You're more likely to just watch tv instead of hitting the gym or order take out instead of making a healthy meal.

So, how can you avoid this trap?

1) Have guiding values or principles. Affirming these values can protect you by reminding you why those values are important. These affirmations reinforce your ability to delay short-term gratification to focus on your long-term goals. So, at a moment when you are tempted to make an unhealthy choice, force yourself to reflect on these personal values first.

Health = Happiness

2) Plan the night before. Doing some prep the night before means one less decision you have to make the next day and helps you retain willpower for when you really need it.

3) Do your most important thing of the day first. If you can't seem to consistently make it to the gym and getting fit and healthy is important to you, which it should be, make the gym part of your morning routine.

4) Use the KISS Method. I talked about this last week, but it’s so important I’ll reiterate it here. One way to increase your output is to reduce your inputs (or decisions). If you can routinize daily tasks you’ll have more decision-making energy for when you need it. It has been reported that Albert Einstein bought several versions of the same grey suit because he didn’t want to waste brainpower on choosing an outfit each morning. Now, I’m not saying you have to wear the same thing everyday, but try creating a habit that lets you take advantage of your psychology.
I’d love to hear your strategies or routines for overcoming unhealthy behaviors. You can let me know by emailing me at

Joe BarliaComment