The lack of willpower is frequently cited as the number one reason why people do not follow through with making major changes in their live such as quitting smoking, losing weight, and giving up other addictions. The results from the recent American Psychological Association's annual Stress in America Survey reflect clearly this attitude among respondents. Twenty-seven percent of those surveyed reported that lack of willpower was the most significant barrier for them for making changes in their life. But the majority of respondents indicated that they believed that willpower was something that they could learn. So what is this elusive thing called willpower?
In recent years, scientists -- many of them psychologists -- have gotten closer to answering this question. Some of the results of their work were recently summarized in the publication by the American Psychological Association entitled, "What You Need To Know About Willpower, The Psychological Science Of Self-Control."
Willpower appears to be an ability that allows an individual to "resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals." This ability to exercise self- discipline has been found to be more important than intelligence in predicting academic success. A recent study conducted in New Zealand found that self-control in childhood was predictive of physical and mental health and financial security in
adulthood. The researchers found that these patterns held even when the researchers control for the children's socioeconomic status, home life and general intelligence.
Willpower undoubtedly has much to do with being able to prevent adverse events in your life, e.g., a heart attack, as well as being able to face and deal with them when they do occur. For that reason, we will be exploring what has been learned about willpower from this and other research.