Strategically Combine Willpower and Self-Discipline to Boost Results

Written by on May 31, 2016 in Accountability

Willpower and Self-Discipline“With willpower and self-discipline, all things are possible. Without them, even the simplest goal can seem like the impossible dream.”

Okay, I admit I took a little creative license with President Roosevelt’s quotation by adding “willpower” but in today’s article you’ll see why the two traits are most powerful when strategically used together, and to do that I’m going to ask you to imagine for a moment the relay race as a metaphor for life.

In a relay race, as in life, there are the longer “legs” which represent the major phases of your life and then there are important, shorter, transitions that are crucial to periods of change, overcoming adversity and achieving dreams and goals.

With the right mindset, you can learn to use the traits of willpower and self-discipline in combination for your own relay race to achieve any desired outcome, whether it’s pushing through a period of hardship or striving to achieve dreams and goals.

First, we need to do the obligatory exercise of looking at the definitions because there is a tendency to blur the lines when we think of these two traits.

Willpower: The ability to control unnecessary and harmful impulses, to do something even when you don’t want to, or to restrain one’s own impulses when you do want to do something you know you shouldn’t. Willpower is like a muscle, it can be strengthened over time however it is still a limited resource. But if directed intelligently, it can provide the boost you need to overcome inertia and create momentum.

Self-discipline: The collection of rituals and habits that give you the stamina to persevere. It is the ability to reject short-term satisfaction for long-term benefits.

Willpower is the Companion to Self-Discipline

To clarify how willpower and self-discipline work together, let’s go back to our relay metaphor. Think of willpower as what you use to overcome inertia and create momentum right out of the gate or to push you across the finish line. In fact, in a relay race, the strongest and fastest runners are used at the end of a race just when a boost of energy is needed most to close any gap and get across the finish line.

Self-discipline may be less exciting, but it is what keeps you going during the long stretches of the race (and life) and represents the rituals and habits that you create to achieve your ultimate desired outcomes.

Your ability to listen to and take action based on your inner voice – regardless of how you feel, other influences, or temptations you face, is the key to self-mastery.

One familiar story would be going on a diet to get into a favorite outfit. Let’s say you decide 10 pounds should do it and implement some form of starvation plan. If your willpower is strong enough you may be able to hit your short-term goal, but statistics show that a staggering 90% of those who reach their diet goals eventually regain the weight.

Getting off the merry-go-round requires a shift in thinking from the need to give up certain foods temporarily to hit your goal, to developing the taste for healthy foods and intentionally creating the rituals and habits that will enable you to achieve a long-term lifestyle change.

Let’s consider one more example, and say you’re dealing with an unexpected or unwelcome transition in your life. Chances are you’ll need to tap into your willpower to deal with short-term decisions and problem-solving. But you’ll also need the self-discipline to plan for the future. In particular, what are the potential long-term consequences of the choices you are making and actions you are taking today, and how can you create the best possible outcome?

It is human nature to want to just get through a problem and back to “normal” as quickly as possible, but self-discipline is the key to shifting from short-term coping to long-term thriving and finding opportunities for growth in all of your experiences. This is a common characteristic among the highly resilient and the key reason they are able to come through adverse situations stronger than ever.

Using willpower and self-discipline strategically create focus and a sense of empowerment. Click To Tweet

Developing willpower and self-discipline isn’t particularly difficult nor does it take a lot of mental or physical strength. It does, however, require time and willingness to become intentional about your choices and actions.

The most effective technique to strengthen your willpower and self-discipline is to do the things which you would rather avoid doing. It’s that easy, and that hard. Whether it’s an unpleasant conversation, exercising when all you really feel like doing is watching TV, or not eating that second helping. Every time you carry out such actions in spite of your inner resistance you become stronger.

Learning to use willpower and self-discipline strategically gives you the power to choose your behavior and reactions, instead of being ruled by them. They create a feeling of focus and empowerment.

Create Your Best Life

The Ultimate Goal

Let’s get back to the relay race for a moment because there is one critical element we haven’t touched on yet, and that is the baton. Did you know that the baton is actually the most important thing in a relay race? No matter how fast the runners are, if someone drops the baton the team is out of the race.

In life, your purpose, the people and things that matter most to you, that is your baton. One of the most important reasons for developing the powerful combination of willpower and self-discipline is to create the best possible life for yourself and those you care for so that you can ultimately carry your baton proudly across your own finish line.

What’s your story?How have you developed willpower and self-discipline in your life? If you have any tips or advice please share them with us in the comments below.

Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
About Marquita Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living  click here.

Thank you for sharing!

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  1. Morgan says:

    Love this post! You are so right! Willpower is behind every achievement. Habits like smoking are dirty, tough habits to break, but with willpower and the right help, it can be done! Very nicely said! Thanks so much for sharing your insight!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post! Yep, willpower is terrific, but the important thing we need to remember is that it is only the beginning, and that’s where self-discipline takes over for the long-haul. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and contributing to the conversation. 🙂

  2. Joyce Hansen

    What I especially like about your posts Marquita, is how thought provoking each topic is. Willpower and self-discipline are often portrayed as the same, but you make very clear and valid distinctions. I also enjoy the comments which add their own insight.
    Joyce Hansen recently posted…Using the power word “because” in your businessMy Profile

  3. Lisa Baltahser says:

    The baton analogy is good! It explains a lot in my own life. The article provides an excellent explanation of how willpower and self-discipline work together.

    I especially love the last quote:
    Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.

    About Marquita Herald

    • Glad you liked it, Lisa. Sometimes when I write I start with a plan and sometimes things just unfold as I’m writing, and that’s pretty much how this article went. 🙂

  4. Marty, I think I NEEDED to read this today! I’m usually good at self mastery, but I’m human…I get tempted 🙂 Occasionally I give in and let go. But I need to keep myself in check…and this post sure will keep me in check. Willpower stronger and all 🙂

  5. Hm, gosh, there you go making my brain work again. As a redheaded child, I was always accused of having strong will. However, it took a lot of years before I learned to direct that strength and truly make it will power.
    There are times I think I’m pretty good with self-discipline and there are times I’m an abysmal failure at it. I’m determined to kick self-discipline’s butt! Your posts help me feel I can.
    RoseMary Griffith recently posted…One Day in the Brecon Beacons Is Just a TeaserMy Profile

    • I think what you describe is pretty normal RoseMary. We all have some areas where we’re stronger than others. Life would be pretty boring if it weren’t for the challenges along the way. 🙂

  6. Sue Kearney says:

    Wow. The piece about the baton is powerful to read and to contemplate. I love the image of what I’m proudly carrying across my own personal finish line.

    Thank you!
    Sue Kearney recently posted…Make and use a Goddess Box — it will hold your wishes and worriesMy Profile

  7. Erica says:

    I love the imagery of the baton as the things and people you care about most. I have a lot of willpower and self-discipline. Maybe a little too much. I’ve always been very driven. (Maybe that explains why it is 7am on a Saturday and I’m already doing something productive.) Lol.
    Erica recently posted…Cashew Milk: The Easy Homemade Way!My Profile

  8. Suzie Cheel

    Stellar post Marty, this stood out for me: Your ability to listen to and take action based on your inner voice – regardless of how you feel, other influences, or temptations you face, is the key to self-mastery.
    Will poser and Self discipline work for me when i am following my heart, my passion. Recently with my rebranding I have lost the plot.
    I think one secret for me is to stop the comparisonitis !!!!!!!and then just be me and do ! xxoo
    Suzie Cheel recently posted…Joyful June: It’s Time to Play, Be Bold and Be in The FlowMy Profile

    • I’m so happy you enjoyed the post Suzie, and I can personally relate to your frustration because I’ve explored more than a few blind alleys myself this year. It’s frustrating, but the way I try to look at it is if we at least learn something new along the way, then when we finally hit the right track we’ll discover there was actually a purpose for these scenic detours. 🙂

  9. William Rusho

    I have trained people in the military and in martial arts. I have been across natural born athletes whose talents should exceed everyone else’s. I would give them all up for someone less athletic, if the had will power and self discipline. Those two combinations can overcome any obstacle.

    • I’ll tell you something William, I’ve never trained people in physical arts the way you have, but I have coached people and I hear you loud and clear! If you were to be a fly on the wall in a discussion among a group of coaches, doesn’t matter whether it’s life coach, small business coach, leadership coach, whatever, you’d hear the same thing. Everyone wants something until they have to do the work and then the crowd begins to thin pretty quickly. Thanks so much for sharing!

  10. What you refer to as willpower, I have learned is also our “will”. To both step into our life and also to make choices that have a rightfulness to them and serve our higher purpose. I believe I arrived in this lifetime with a strong will. I see it in my 100-year-old mother too.

    A question came up as I was reading this post, a curiosity if younger generations have less willpower and have more of a “I want it now” way of being in life. Less restraint and more impatience. I see many young people who have not cultivated their will or willpower. This seems to go hand-in-hand with self-discipline for me. Often we have very convincing arguments for ourselves to go off the path and to make choices that we later regret. This is the example you share, Marquita, of the dieter who is fine in the initial phase and then slips back to old patterns, as his willpower and self-discipline are not developed. It’s a fascinating post and brings up a lot of questions about how each of them exist on their own and how powerful they are when fully expressed in combination. Thank you! Food for more thought and exploration.
    Beverley Golden recently posted…A Story is a Living BeingMy Profile

    • Glad you found value in the post Beverley. Interestingly enough, it was my intention to bring up thoughts on what you refer to as ‘will’ and research studies refer to as “willingness”. It’s a topic I plan to explore in an upcoming post and while I definitely see your point about the age factor, for better or worse, the desire for quick fixes in life seems to be as much a sign of the times as it is generational. Thanks so much for sharing, always appreciate your thoughtful insights!

  11. Millen

    Very interesting and thought-provoking article, Marquita! I was told by many that I was born with strong willpower and self discipline… yet it works in some areas of my life but not in others. For example, when it comes to eating fresh french bread with butter, or out-of this-world cheese LOL – my willpower AND self-discipline suddenly disappear! So, how do I choose WHEN I use these “muscles”? I think the answer lies in the importance of the desired result. If the desired result is #4 in my priority of 1 to 10, then it is unlikely I will REALLY COMMIT to doing it what it takes…. To apply my willpower and self-discipline, I need the desired result to be #9 or 10…. Does it makes sense?
    My favorite quote from your article today is this “It is human nature to want to just get through a problem and back to “normal” as quickly as possible, but self-discipline is the key to shifting from short-term coping to long-term thriving and finding opportunities for growth in all of your experiences.” Thank you for yet another thoughtful wonderful article!
    Millen recently posted…Think and Live Wealthy: 13 Guidelines for Your Journey to Financial FreedomMy Profile

    • You’ve brought up an excellent point Millen! It is very true that we all have areas where it’s easier to exert willpower and discipline and other areas where we are constantly struggling with those same traits. And, you are also spot on when you talk about the importance of results or our “WHY” for doing something. That really is the key to so many things in life. Thank yo so much for taking the time to let me know you enjoyed the article, I always appreciate your thoughtful insights. 🙂

  12. Diane Topkis says:

    As always, you bring clarity to a topic. I usually think of willpower as resisting something not to do something. Of course they are related. Resist one thing and do another. Your example of the relay and how willpower and self-discipline fit together was very helpful. Will try to be conscious of using both to succeed.
    Diane Topkis recently posted…Clear the Clutter. Find Your Passion.My Profile

    • So glad you found value in the article Diane! I think it really helps sometimes to have an image of the way something works to help us see it in “motion” so to speak. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. 🙂

  13. Dave

    This is a wonderful analogy, Marty, and it really makes a very strong point about how willpower and self-discipline work together hand-in-hand (slight pun intended) to help us achieve our goals.

    I’m not sure I have a tip. But, I can tell you from personal experience that the initial hurdle of utilizing that willpower can be so difficult. But, once you do choose to exercise it, as you say, it becomes a stronger muscle that allows you to use it the next time with a bit more ease. So, to me, using it requires a good bit of faith and trust that it is an essential piece, the benefits of which you won’t fully appreciate until you give it a chance to show you its merits.

    Thanks for the awesome article, Marty. Have a great weekend!
    Dave recently posted…Working ManMy Profile

    • And, thank you for the awesome comment, Dave! Of course, you are right about the energy it takes to exercise willpower and while there is no shortage of helpful tips to learn how to build that muscle, I have found that it all boils down to the advice I included in the article, making yourself do what you don’t want to do. The good thing, I believe, is that once we become consciously aware of this process and can make it work for us a few times, it’s easier to see the payoff and that helps to motivate us in the early stages.

  14. Marquita — A very though-provoking post. I think willpower, though, isn’t easy at all and takes a lot of mental strength. Just today I did everything I could to postpone going to the Y and exercising. I finally went at the last minute, knowing I’d only time for a half hour instead of 45 minutes. Exercise is so boring, I’d rather do anything else. I haven’t had the mental fortitude to build exercise into my weekly schedule. But I’m trying!

    • You know what they say. Jeannette, if it was easy everybody would be doing it. 🙂 Seriously, you’ve provided an excellent example of the transition line between willpower and self-discipline. Willpower can help you start an exercise program, but it isn’t enough to keep you going – that’s where self-discipline comes into play and that means developing rituals and habits that support your goal to exercise so that you don’t have to put so much mental energy into it. Before you can do that, however, you’ll have to make peace with the inner resistance you’re experiencing because trying to make yourself exercise when you’d “rather do anything else” is pretty much like trying to drive with one foot on the gas and the other on the brake. Thanks for taking the time to share, and keep at it!

  15. Ken Dowell

    Like the idea of using a relay race as an example. You could extend that and talk about all of the willpower and self-discipline you needed before the race ever started just to get you there. This is an Olympic year and these are qualities that were fundamental to getting most of the participating athletes to that event.
    Ken Dowell recently posted…Firenze 2016My Profile

    • Great point Ken! You are so right, it takes a lot of discipline to get a runner ready for a race, and that same analogy applies to everything from launching a business, to publishing a book, to the work an actor does in preparing for a role. It’s all the sacrifices big and small that go into preparing someone for a breakthrough in life that we seldom give thought to, but are in fact, the most important part of the journey. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and contributing to the conversation!

  16. Donna Merrill

    Hi Marquita,

    I love the way you explained willpower and discipline. All I could think of was when I quit smoking cigarettes. It is the most addictive drug know to us. So I needed both.

    Willpower was more of a state of mind and discipline came from a day to day basis. It was a journey, and still is from time to time…an that’s where discipline comes in.

    Donna Merrill recently posted…3 Steps To Selecting A Blogging NicheMy Profile

    • Perfect example Donna! I’ve never smoked myself, but I’ve known plenty of people who have so I’ve seen how they struggled to give them up. So glad you enjoyed the article and, as always, appreciate your thoughtful insights!

  17. Donna Janke

    I’ve never seen willpower and self-discipline so clearly distinguished before – often they are thought of as the same thing. Different, but definitely work hand in hand. Lots of food for thought here (that hopefully leads to intentional behaviour).
    Donna Janke recently posted…Olallieberries in CambriaMy Profile

  18. Mark

    First of all I absolutely love your analogy Marquita!

    And had you not shared it, I don’t think I have ever thought of the baton, as being important as it clearly is!

    And for sure, it never would even occurred to me, that we can and should be combining both our willpower and self discipline, to help us reach our goals!

    And your insights about attempting to diet, by only addressing the surface part of the challenge, clearly makes a lot of sense!

    So how did you get to be so darn smart and insightful anyway?LOL! Thanks for sharing some great insights as always!

    I’ll definitely be sharing this one!
    Mark recently posted…How So Many Extremely Dedicated Entrepreneurs Miss The Boat Big Time Marketing Online!My Profile

    • As always, I appreciate your kind words Mark. To be honest, I’m not sure where I came up with the connection between a relay race and self-regulation, it just seemed to jump out at me when I started writing and seemd to fit so well I ran with it. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the article!

  19. Sabrina Quairoli

    I think willpower and discipline Go hand in hand for a successful life. To me, willpower means the willingness to do and discipline is the consistency to do. In my organizing business, I have seen people having the willpower to do the work but lack the discipline. I am usually there to give them the discipline. Thank you for sharing.

    • Ah, how perfect that you used the word “willingness” Sabrina because I’m working on an article about the power of “willingness” right now. It’s a crucial step in the process of change or any form of personal growth, and yet most of the time we’re unaware of the connection. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and contributing to the conversation!

  20. lenie

    Marquita, I was impressed with the clarity of this part – “Developing willpower and self-discipline isn’t particularly difficult nor does it take a lot of mental or physical strength. It does, however, require time and willingness to become intentional about your choices and actions.”
    Becoming intentional – rather like goal setting – to me is the important part ot the phrase. Once you are determined to go ahead you have a better chance of succeeding.
    lenie recently posted…Mosquitoes Bugging You? Banish ThemMy Profile

    • Well said Lenie! I see the whole process of change and growth as one big jigsaw puzzle because there are so many pieces that connect to form the whole and each piece is integral to creating the finished product. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and contributing to the conversation. 🙂

  21. Stella Chiu

    Hi, Marquita
    I really like the examples which presented in this post. The most common one is weight lost. Without the will power and self-discipline, there is no way we can resist the hungry urgent from inside.
    I agree totally that without these duo, we can’t even successfully achieve the smallest task.Everyone has willpower and self-discipline, but the degree of manifest is different for each individual.
    thanks for such good post. Will share!
    Stella Chiu
    Stella Chiu recently posted…You can Free from Asthma for Good almost EffortlesslyMy Profile

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the article, Stella! In retrospect, I think the word “strategic” in the title may be a bit to dry, but if you think about the process of learning to think of willpower and self-discipline as two separate but related processes and what it takes to make the most of them to achieve our goals, it really does fit. Thanks for sharing!

  22. Phoenicia

    Yet another thought provoking article Marquita.

    To me Self discipline means changing elements of your life to fall in line with the goals you wish to meet. Your willpower is determined by how much you want it. One can desire to lose weight but unless one changes their eating patterns and undertakes regular exercise it will not happen.

    You mentioned a word that stood out to me – intentional. We cannot achieve by accident, but by taking deliberate actions.
    Phoenicia recently posted…Introverts – have you found your place?My Profile

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