4 Easy Steps to Improve Your Willpower

Posted on May 7, 2018 by Jenna Ahlschlager, ACE-CHC


We’ve all been there. A busy, stressful day at work or an argument with your partner turns into a drink or two, your favorite junk food and a Netflix binge. While these things feel necessary at the time, they all work directly against your health and fitness goals.

Definition of Willpower

Willpower is a combination of determination and self-discipline enabling us to do something, despite the difficulties involved. In other words, it’s the ability to control our impulses and actions. However, having willpower isn’t something we’re born with.  Like any other healthy habit, it takes time and practice in order to build it into something we can use to make ourselves less vulnerable to temptation.

In working with our clients we have found there are four steps to help enhance your willpower. As you read, make sure you have a pen and a piece of paper handy so you can create your own plan for improving your willpower.

Step 1: Write Down Your Willpower Goal

  • The first step to conquering your temptations is to clearly define your goals. Clearly defining your goals also makes you more likely to stick with it.
    • For example, if you want to eat less sweets or quit drinking alcohol, write it down at the top of your piece of paper. Then, write down exactly what it means.
    • This could be “no dessert of any kind” or “cut down to one drink per week.”
  • Once you have those two things written down, give yourself a timeframe. Creating healthy habits takes time, especially if you want to maintain them in the long run. Example: “no dessert of any kind for 30 days.”

Step 2: Recognize Your Triggers

The second step for building willpower is to recognize the triggers or circumstances where you are likely to give in to temptation. This could be office parties, weddings or social events, experiencing work or life stress, lack of sleep or even just going out to eat with friends or family.

On your piece of paper, write down each trigger. By acknowledging your triggers, you are making yourself more aware of them and can be better equipped to handle them, making it less likely you will give in.

Step 3: Create Replacement Behaviors

Next, for each trigger write down multiple replacement behaviors, or, behaviors to replace non-desired behavior. For example, if one of your triggers for eating dessert is work stress, try meditating or going to the gym instead. Having a variety of alternatives allows you to choose the replacement most likely to work in any given circumstance. A second example—if your boss is throwing you an office birthday party, it’s most likely not an option to not attend or to leave early, but you can eat fruit instead of cake or strike up a conversation with a coworker to take your mind off the sweet treats. Rather than focusing on what you can’t do, focus on what you can do. This will give you a better sense of control and leave you feeling empowered rather than feeling guilty.

Step 4: Recognize Your Success

Every time you successfully engage in a replacement behavior, give yourself credit! Put a check mark or a star next to it on your goals list. Seeing your success in writing will be more satisfying, motivating and encourage you to keep going.

Something important to call out is you don’t have to have complete willpower 100%of the time. Try focusing on practicing willpower as often as possible. For example, if you typically eat dessert every night after dinner and your goal is to eat less sugar, try choosing just two nights to have dessert on. It might be tough at first, but it will improve your health in the long run. By focusing on your reaction to temptation rather than controlling your environment, you’ll find with practice your willpower will start to grow and you will accomplish your goals!

We Can Help

We’ve found these steps and other practices to be helpful for those who have reached out to VITAL WorkLife. To access your Well Being Resources, connect with us through your VITAL WorkLife App or call 800.383.1908 to talk with a counselor about your health and fitness goals.

Not a member? 

If you’d like to learn more about our resources for organizations and employees, click here. For more information on our Well Being Resources built specifically for healthcare organizations, click here


Gilson, Jon. “How to Build Willpower: A 4-Step System to Fight Temptation.” Whole Life Challenge, Whole Life Challenge, 7 Nov. 2017, www.wholelifechallenge.com/how-to-build-willpower-a-4-step-system-to-fight-temptation/?utm_campaign=January%2B2018&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=59985995&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-8KXVvCU9QJjQzQCSudb4Hr_l4qti-ndowlnfivgLdPOQJE12b7Yo97Sdka-Y-WaBDx6sUw3tWenyUr06gmahrPjV0tEANanBW_ibHvmtPS6sRdJ3M&_hsmi=59985995


Interested in learning more?  

Contact Us


Tags in this post

All Entries

Get New Insights Delivered to Your Inbox