Willpower seems to be this mystical power that some people are born with and others aren’t but that’s far from the truth.

The reality is that some people just do a better job of exercising willpower because of the way they go about their lives.

I was reminded of the “rules” of willpower after listening to Episode 126 of Mike Matthews’ Muscle for Life podcast: The Science of Supercharging Your Willpower and Self-Discipline.

Here are three rules of willpower that we should all revisit from time to time:

  1. Willpower is a finite resource
  2. Willpower is a “muscle” which can be strengthened
  3. Willpower is subject to your environment

Willpower as a finite resource:

Science has shown that willpower is strongest early in the day and wanes as the day goes on. This is due to the accumulation of physical and mental fatigue (decision fatigue), both of which can lead to poor decision making.

What can you do about it?

Do the things that require willpower early in the day. This increases your likelihood of following through.

Eliminate trivial decisions, such as the food you eat and the clothes you wear (i.e., eat and wear the same things every day) so that you accumulate less decision fatigue throughout the day.

Willpower as a muscle:

Science has also shown that willpower acts like a muscle and can be strengthened with “exercise.”

What can you do about it?

Find small ways every day to exercise willpower.

Even seemingly insignificant uses of willpower like using your less-dominant hand from time to time or delaying gratification by a few minutes can contribute to stronger willpower in the long run.

Willpower is subject to your environment:

We’ve all experienced the role our environment plays in our behaviors.

When you have the right environment and systems in place, exercising willpower is not necessary in order to make the right decisions.

What can you do about it?

Structure your environment in a way that eliminates the need for willpower.

For example, if you have no junk food in your house, you cannot eat it. No willpower required.

If you have no internet access, you can’t waste time on Facebook. No willpower required.

If you want a more detailed recap of these rules and more, I suggest listening to Mike’s podcast episode.

The Science of Supercharging Your Willpower and Self-Discipline

In the show notes to the podcast episode, Mike wrote:

Increasing your willpower doesn’t require soul searching. In fact, it’s much simpler and easier than you probably think…

This is true… but ONLY if you understand the rules of willpower.

Training yourself to take control over your willpower instead of letting it control you is a worthwhile exercise.

Featured image by me (@alyg114 on Instagram).


I’ve transformed my life by using systems and spreadsheets to track personal data.

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