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Everyone Has a Big “But” – How to Find and Build Your Motivation and Willpower.

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Volume 19, Issue 5

Everyone has a big BUT – How to Find and Build Your Motivation and Willpower

Whether we are trying to finish a project at work, keep a personal wellness goal, or keep up with household chores, we’ve all experienced feelings of inadequacy and failure. We may have cursed our lack of will power or bemoaned our in- ability to get motivated. We face numerous obstacles that seemingly prevent our progress: We don’t have enough time, resources, or energy. And so it goes, that EVERYONE HAS A BIG BUT! The good news is motivation and willpower are more available and more plentiful when we shift our thinking and take certain steps. Here are some simple steps to gain control of our motivation and will power so we may accomplish anything we desire.


Motivation as defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “ the act or process of giving someone a reason for doing something”  and “  the condition of being eager to act.”

Scott Geller, Ph.D., is the author of over 400 publications on the interventions for improving our quality of life. In his 2013 TEDx talk “ The Psychology of Self Motivation”  , Dr. Geller explains some of the components fueling motivation.

Evaluate your motivation level.

  1. Confidence: Can I do it? Do I believe I can do it? Will it work? Do I believe the method or process will give me the results I want?
  2. Consequences: Is it worth it? What will this cost in time, money, and energy, real or imagined?
  3. Choice: Knowing we have choices and having a sense of autonomy further fuel self-motivation.
  4. Community: We feel happier and more motivated when we have connections with others. Our supports offer valuable insight, advice and encouragement.


The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines willpower as “the ability to control yourself: strong determination that allows you to do something difficult.”

In 2012, the American Psychological Association (APA) published “What You Need to Know about Willpower: The Psychological Science of Self-Control.” Pulling together the information gained from years of research on willpower, the APA came to numerous conclusions.

Here are a few:

  • Willpower is correlated with positive life outcomes, such as high academic achievement, higher and improved physical and mental health, better self-esteem, lower rates of substance abuse and higher financial stability.
  • Willpower is like a muscle. With repeated use, willpower becomes weary and less powerful.
  • Though willpower depletes, this process may be interrupted by positive emotions, beliefs and attitudes.
  • Making healthy food choices to maintain blood-glucose levels may also slow willpower depletion.
  • Willpower is also like a muscle as we can use specific exercises to strengthen and possibly improve our willpower over time

“With but few exceptions, it is always the underdog who wins through sheer will power. ~Johnny Weissmuller


Willpower is correlated with positive life outcomes, such as high academic achievement, higher and improved physical and mental health, better self-esteem, lower rates of substance abuse and higher financial stability.

Practicing Self Control and Rebuilding Your Willpower


Jon Kabat-Zinn authored Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. He defined mindfulness as “ awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. It’s about knowing what is on your mind.”   Build the awareness and self control muscles by meditating, breathing exercises, yoga poses, or coloring.


When the impulse to repeat the unwanted behavior arises, set a timer. Deciding to wait 10 or 15 minutes before acting allows the urge to dissipate on its own. We learn to benefit from the fact that impulses wax and wane.

Out of sight, out of mind

Examples of this include not buying the foods we wish to avoid, deciding not to go to celebrations that offer alcohol when working on sobriety.


Planning ahead is always useful. When strengthening our willpower, we use “ if-then”   to decide how to handle possible temptations. If you attend a dinner function with few healthy options, the plan becomes, “ if the buffet dinner does not include a healthy option, then I’ll combine items from the salad and vegetable tray.”

Re-evaluate Motivation

Willpower is the strength we use to meet our goals. If the motivation to finish those goals is faltering, willpower has a harder job. Re-evaluate your motivations and the reasons for wanting a change.

I’d rather be a could-be if I cannot be an are; because a could-be is a maybe who is reaching for a star. I’d rather be a has-been than a might-have-been, by far; for a might have-been has never been, but a has was once an are. ~ Milton Berle

Did you know that the EAP is available to help you achieve goals, change a habit or unwanted behavior, weigh the benefits and drawbacks of a decision, and develop motivation and willpower to improve any aspect of your life? Call PAS to speak with a professional and arrange personalized services.

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PASWord Express © 2016 is published by Personal Assistance Services, 9735 Landmark Parkway, Suite 17, St. Louis, MO, 63127-9968 (800) 356-0845. Material may not be reproduced without written permission.