How 5 Minutes of Gratitude Increases Willpower

It was Tuesday and Jim was talking to me about his cat again.

This time... he was pretty worked up. Apparently “Smokey” had been behaving badly and had clawed his favorite couch. Jim’s eyes locked into mine and his wild hand gestures swung in front of me like an over-caffeinated mom doing Zumba as he re-lived the incident. I was a prisoner to another one of his cat stories.

The exciting life of a 20 something white collar worker.

After attempting to act interested, I quickly exited the conversation at the first opportunity.

Normally, one of Jim’s animated cat stories would have derailed my workday, but today was different. Today his ridiculous story just bounced off of me.

What was different?

For the past few weeks, I had been using a gratitude journal and I soon noticed that I was much more focused, cared less about dumb incidents, was making better choices and producing at a higher level. More importantly, I had created more Willpower!

Wanting to know the connection between to the Gratitude Journal and my sudden increase in mindset and productivity, I started researching. Being an uber-nerd incapable of leaving any question unanswered, I first picked up Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink [2].

Essentially the entire book is about the power of the subconscious mind and unlocking the underlying processes which control human behavior.

It turns out one of the best methods for focusing the subconscious mind and creating more willpower is a daily gratitude practice!


Gratitude is part of a growing field of positive psychology and is the simplest thing you can do to create more willpower and be happier. Gratitude helps us look at everything going right in our lives and gives us a daily practice for amplifying willpower. [6]


Your mind will perceive negative emotions more strongly than positive. We evolved in a dog-eat-dog world and any threat (either emotional or physical) is taken very seriously by your subconscious. 

In his wildly controversial book The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins had this to say: “We are survival machines – robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.” [8]

Dawkins is saying that there is a subconscious part of our minds which have been programmed by our genes to keep us alive at all costs. Because we are constantly bombarded by things which our subconscious over-reacts to and perceives as “threats”, our willpower is the first to go. If we do nothing, we don’t stand a chance in the face of this evolutionary mechanism.  

This is where a gratitude practice comes in.



The RAS (reticular activating system) is a bundle of nerves that is attached to your brainstem and acts as a filter for everything going in and out of your brain.

When you focus your attention on the good things in your life, your brain will filter out the bad and prevent your subconscious from overacting to harmless “threats”. This allows you to create more willpower, retain your existing willpower stores and focus on the tasks that matter. [3]


The PFC (Prefrontal Cortex) is the part of your brain associated with willpower and problem solving. In other words, gratitude makes you tougher and more resilient.

Resilient people activate their PFC and dominate. Resistant people activate their fight-or-flight nervous system and get pushed around by life. [1]


Are you still angry at someone or about something? Did your business partner rip you off? Significant other break up with you on Valentine’s Day?

Holding grudges and being angry has a nasty way of permeating into the rest of our lives. When we are mad or pissed off, it zaps our vitality and kills willpower. The only way to move past being angry is through forgiveness.

The only problem is that forgiveness is hard. Really hard.

Starting a gratitude practice is one of the few things that researchers have shown to create a healing environment and allow you to move on. Use gratitude as the first step in the forgiveness process and watch your willpower go up. [6]


According to psychologist Carl Rogers, gratitude expands your Self-Concept, which consists of 3 things:

1.    Self-image, or how you see yourself.

2.   Self-esteem, or how much you value yourself.

3.   Ideal self, or how you wish you could be.

When your self-concept expands, all areas of your life benefit. A gratitude practice allows you to have more confidence, value your achievements, and work towards your goals. [7]

Expanding your self-concept allows you to see the true value you bring in this world. It’s a powerful feeling and allows you to increase your impact and do the work that actually matters.


In The AM: List 3 things you are grateful for, 3 things that would make today amazing and 1 affirming sentence.

These exercises prime your brain to take action and see opportunity. It also forces you to simplify and see how you can make today great.

I am Grateful for…

1.    Eating delicious bacon and coffee with heavy cream for breakfast.

2.   Having awesome friends and family who support me.

3.   My co-worker who tells me a 15 minute story about their cat “Smokey” who gave them a funny look when they came home.

What would make today amazing?

1.    Writing a to-do list and executing everything important.

2.   Staying calm, when my co-worker tells me their story about how “Smokey” got frostbite on his paw.

3.   Dominating my workout today at the gym.

Daily Affirmations. I am...

1.    I am going to be completely present in all of my interactions. I will look people in the eye and be more assertive.


Every night, open your journal and review the day. Did you do the things you said you would? This also helps identify actions that move you forward and acknowledge good things from the day.

Write down 3 great things that happened today:

1.    Connecting with a friend who is pushing me to do better things.

2.   My beet, walnut and steak salad at lunch.

3.   I stayed present and unreactive when my co-worker spent the entire morning telling me about “Smokey’s” funny habit of smiling while he eats.

How could I have made today better?

1. I got frustrated with my significant other when they had a bad day and just wanted to talk.

NOTE: I use the 5 Minute Journal developed by UJ Ramdas and Alex Ikonn. Check it out here and use the coupon code “StopStartDo” for 10% off. [7]


As stated before there is no reason to wait. Open up a notebook and start right now. Also, think of someone who would benefit from this article. Forward the link and help them reach their goals!



Hi! I’m Ben. My friends call me the illegitimate love child of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bill Nye. I’m a physicist/athlete and the founder of Stop. Start. Do. My mission is to help top performing entrepreneurs master new habits in 6 days.

Check out my latest work at


Ben Austin

Hi! I’m Ben. My friends call me the illegitimate love child of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bill Nye. I’m a physicist/athlete and the founder of Stop. Start. Do. My mission is to help top performing entrepreneurs master new habits in 6 days. Check out my latest work at