man crossing both arms

Causes and Cures for Lack of Willpower and Self-Discipline

man crossing both armsThe bedrock for success in all areas of life is the combined force of willpower and self-discipline. Yet, when was the last time you monitored your willpower and self-discipline? Are they wavering, waning, or growing? Do you ever find you lack willpower and discipline just when you need it? If so, why does that happen and how can you restore your powers?

What do we mean by willpower? Firstly, it is the ability to focus on and carry out the steps necessary to reach our goals. We could also describe it as the ability to resolutely go on despite inner resistance and outer obstacles. In colloquial terms, it is the wisdom to understand that some things are too important to ignore just because we don’t feel like doing them. And it is the power to do what is best for us even when we don’t feel like doing it.

Our failure to reach our potential is not due to a lack of willpower as much as it is to its incorrect use. That is, we all have willpower, but the way we use it determines how successful we become. We can choose to use it wisely by doing what is best for us, or we can forego a bright future by choosing immediate pleasure over temporary sacrifices.

Whether I choose to work hard or goof off, it still requires willpower. In the case of working hard, I have to overcome internal resistance because our natural inclination is to seek pleasure. And in the case of neglecting my responsibilities, I have to overcome guilt and the fear of reprisals. So, if I have to use willpower in either case, why not choose the situation that will add to my success and not impede it?

What is self-discipline? It is the ability to delay immediate gratification for a greater future gain, even if effort and time is necessary. So, we forego beer and pizza today for a slimmer, healthier body tomorrow. In other words, we choose less pleasure today for more heath, satisfaction, and happiness tomorrow.

Other words for self-discipline are self-control, self- governance, self-management, and self-regulation. But all these words can appear to be negative as they imply restriction and effort. So, a better choice of words may be self-empowerment or self-leadership as both words imply freedom. And that’s precisely what self-empowerment (aka self-discipline) is; it is the freedom to achieve whatever you desire.

Willpower can be written as one word (willpower) or two words (will power). I prefer writing it as one word because it unites the two concepts of will and power. Will is merely a compass pointing to where we would like to go and power is what gets us there. That power, by the way, is nothing other than self- discipline. So, willpower, then, means the ability to choose our dreams and goals (will) and the self-discipline (power) to get there. Let’s now move on to some of the causes and cures for a lack of willpower and self-discipline.

The Causes for Lack of Willpower and Self-Discipline (and Their Cures)

1. Not being taught. Most likely we weren’t taught about willpower and self-discipline. This article may offer a starting point. But for more information, consider the following books.

Self-Discipline in 10 Days: How to Go from Thinking to Doing by Theodore Bryant, HUB Publishing, 2004

Willpower: Finding the Strength by Lisa Stephens, Prentice Hall,1991.

2. Subconscious Programming. If what you are trying to do requires willpower, it simply means you are fighting with your subconscious. Once your goals are aligned with your subconscious beliefs, you will no longer experience resistance. But if you feel blocked, what should you do? You can take one of the following two approaches.

a) Uncover the subconscious reasons for the resistance and reprogram your subconscious. To learn how to do so, see: and

b) Feel the resistance and go ahead in spite of it. Either approach will take you to your dreams. True, if you reprogram your subconscious, you can end the struggle and reach your goal effortlessly, but it will take time to learn and practice this new skill. On the other hand, if you’re willing to grit your teeth, roll up your sleeves, and dive in, there’s no reason why you can’t start on that project today. Yes, it’ll be an uphill battle, but as extra compensation, you’ll be rewarded with a sense of accomplishment and pride in yourself.

3. Fear of failure, discomfort, rejection, and being wrong. Four common fears holding us back are the fear of failure, discomfort, rejection, and being wrong. Both the fear of failure and discomfort can easily be dealt with by reframing; that is, by changing our perspective and looking at them in a new light.

Let’s start with the fear of failure. This fear is irrational because there is no such thing as failure; there are only learning lessons, each of which bring us closer to our goal. Failure is impossible unless we choose to quit.

The fear of discomfort is deeply ingrained because we are programmed at birth to seek pleasure and avoid pain.
Unfortunately, as adults we misinterpret exertion and sacrifice as `pain,’ when they are actually the keys to success. We experience the fear of discomfort by an unwillingness to leave our comfort zone, which is a blight on humanity because it prevents our progress. Make no mistake about it, your comfort zone can be as small as a prison cell, as narrow as a coffin, as stifling as New York City in summer, or as constraining as a straitjacket. It is the enemy of growth, expansion, and personal development.

The next time you are tempted to step out of your comfort zone and become scared, just remember that fear is not a warning of impending pain, but a signal of an opportunity to grow. Accept the challenge. Muster up the courage. Take a chance, and dive into a new, stronger you.

Both the fears of rejection and being wrong are paradoxes. You see, if you refuse to do something you would like to do because you are afraid of being rejected, you will end up rejecting yourself. Never allow someone’s opinion to prevent you from being the person you wish to be. How will their opinion of you grow, if all you do is cave in to their ideas? Remember, they too suffer from the fear of rejection, so when you ignore their opinions and do what you believe is best for yourself, they will admire you and envy your courage.

The fear of being wrong is equally paradoxical because merely having that fear makes you wrong. How can it be right not to do what you wish to do because you are afraid you may be proven wrong? It is never right to give in to fear. It is always right to risk being wrong because that simply means you are willing to learn.

4. Subconscious resistance. Whenever we have to tackle a challenging task or project, we are likely to encounter a great deal of internal resistance, which can immobilize us and curtail our progress. To understand why this happens and how to overcome it, read the section called, “Gaining Control over Our Lives” in the following article:

5. The Resistance Syndrome. This is another form of subconscious resistance. In the case above (Cause #4), our subconscious creates resistance to protect us from what we believe to be painful. But in the case of the Resistance Syndrome, our subconscious acts like a rebellious child that doesn’t want to be told what to do.

You see, every time we have thoughts preceded by “I should.,” “I have to.,” “I’ve got to.,” “I must.,” or “I ought to.” our subconscious interprets these as orders. No one likes to be told what to do, including our subconscious. So, whenever it receives what it interprets as an order, it digs in its heels; refuses to budge, and shouts, No!” In other words, it creates resistance, blocking our efforts.

To overcome this problem, we just have to be more tactful. Just replace the “I should.” pattern with “I want to. because.” For example, instead of thinking, “I should work late every night this week.” Rephrase your thought to, “I want to work late every night this week because my company needs help to fill all the Christmas orders. I want to be a valuable team player because when I help my company to succeed, I also help myself to succeed.”

6. Insufficient motivation. The combination of willpower, self- discipline, and motivation provide an unstoppable force. But on the other hand, willpower and self-discipline may not be enough if there is insufficient motivation. What is motivation? It is simply the desire to act. And where does that desire come from? Well, we do everything for a reason. And if the reason is good enough, we will want to do it. A lack of motivation means we don’t have a strong enough reason to act.

To keep the fire of motivation and enthusiasm burning remain focused on the rewards you will receive, not on the work you have yet to do. Be sure to consider ALL the benefits of your desired actions to make them easy choices.

Also, keep your eyes on the big picture. Are you hammering a nail or building a house? Are you partying with friends, or sabotaging your future success?

Action is the coal that feeds the fire. For each action you take that brings you closer to your goal will lead to positive outcomes and fan the flames of motivation.

7. Depletion of resources. Willpower and self-discipline require energy and deplete it in much the same way that physical exercise temporarily depletes energy. Because we do not have an unlimited supply of energy, it is necessary to prioritize and always direct our willpower and self-discipline to the most important matters first.

Stress also depletes energy. Therefore, we will have less energy resources for willpower and self-discipline whenever we feel stressed. To learn six ways of reducing stress, see “1. Eliminating or Reducing Stress” in this article: . Also, to learn a simple meditation technique, watch this video:

One of the fuels for mental and physical energy is blood glucose, so low blood glucose will diminish our willpower and self- discipline capability. To prevent this from happening, avoid high glycemic foods. To learn more about high glycemic foods, see:

Our energy resource can be replenished by sleep, positive emotional experiences, and self-motivational mantras such as, “I can do it!”

8. Poor Habits. Habits are performed automatically, and bad ones sabotage our efforts to remain in control and use willpower and self-discipline. To break bad habits, see: and

9. Self-doubt. According to the eminent American philosopher and psychologist William James (1842~1910), the cause of all failure is self-doubt. To overcome this self-defeating belief, study the seven steps in the 10-day program, which you will find here:

Nothing is IMPOSSIBLE when we remember I’M POSSIBLE.

10. Overwhelmed by the size of the project. Break down large projects into small ones, small projects into tasks, and tasks into baby steps. Large projects project fear while baby steps inspire confidence.

11. Halted by HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) situations. Hunger, anger, loneliness, and exhaustion drain energy and halt any progress. So, eat if you’re hungry (but avoid high glycemic foods). Calm down if you’re angry and practice being understanding, accepting, and forgiving. Reach out and befriend a lonely person to end your own loneliness. And if you’re tired, practice relaxation techniques, which you can learn about in Cause #7 above.

Three Additional Tips on Increasing Willpower and Self-Discipline

1. Remove temptation. Why make practicing willpower more difficult than necessary? For example, I found that as long as I had ice-cream at home, I found it too difficult to avoid eating it (little self-discipline). Yet, once I stopped buying it, I had no problem living without ice cream. So, accomplishing a goal may be as simple as removing a temptation or distraction.

2. Make Plans. Plan your projects, tasks, and baby-steps. Organize and prioritize your ToDo List. Set and schedule your short and long term goals. For doing so reduces stress, adds clarity, and prepares the way for the exercise of willpower and self-discipline.

3. Perform Self-Discipline Exercises. Learn from this excerpt of a speech William James gave to an audience of teachers:

“Keep alive in yourself the faculty of making efforts by means of little useless exercises every day, that is to say, be systematically heroic every day in little unnecessary things; do something every other day, for the sole and simple reason that it is difficult and you would prefer not to do it, so that when the cruel hour of danger strikes, you will not be unnerved or unprepared. A self-discipline of this kind is similar to the insurance that one pays on one’s house and on one’s possessions. To pay the premium is not pleasant and possibly may never serve us, but should it happen that our house were burnt, the payment will save us from ruin. Similarly, the man who has accustomed himself steadily, day after day, to concentrating his attention, to will with energy, for instance, not to spend money on unnecessary things, will be well rewarded by his effort. When disasters occur, he will stand firm as a rock, even though faced on all sides by ruin, while his companions in distress will be swept aside as the chaff from the sieve.”

In other words, we can cultivate willpower and self-discipline by creating our own exercises.

Here are five examples of using simple exercises to strengthen willpower:

a) Deliberately delay gratification of a neutral habit. Do you feel like having a cup of tea now? It’s okay to treat yourself or take a break, but wait an additional 30 minutes before you do so.

b) Cut down on an undesirable habit. Are you a smoker? If so, don’t smoke between the hours of 10 am and 12 noon, just to prove you can do it.

c) Do something useful that you don’t feel like doing, such as spending 20 minutes to answer email or reduce office clutter.

d) This afternoon, immediately do whatever needs to be done to avoid procrastination.

e) Practice perseverance; don’t give up until your project has been accomplished.

Research has shown that developing willpower and self-discipline in one area of life spills over to all areas of life. So, to maximize your benefits, consciously practice self-discipline throughout the day. Doing so will enable you to do what needs to be done despite any fear, discomfort, negative programming, resistance, or low motivation.

Park Benjamin, Sr. (1809~1864) amplifies what I’ve just written:

“There are no two words in the English language which stand out in bolder relief, like kings upon a checker-board, to so great an extent as the words ‘I will.’ There is strength, depth and solidity, decision, confidence and power, determination, vigor and individuality, in the round, ringing tone which characterizes its delivery. It talks to you of triumph over difficulties, of victory in the face of discouragement, of will to promise and strength to perform, of lofty and daring enterprise, of unfettered aspirations, and of the thousand and one solid impulses by which man masters impediments in the way of progression.”

You have the resources. Use your power. Take the risk. Discover who you are. Change. Grow. Learn. And embrace the adventure of life.