10 Things People With Extraordinary Willpower Do Differently

“These people must be saints!”

Thought Roy Baumeister, one of the top researchers on the science of willpower.

He and his colleagues were researching people in Germany and the Netherlands who seemed to have unstoppable willpower. [1]

They ate healthy

They exercised regularly

They were well educated

They were successful in their work

They found time to spend with friends and family

And they reported happiness and fulfillment in their lives

Saints indeed. But for the purposes of this article, I’m going to take the liberty of calling these people Willpowered.

In order to find out how these Willpowered people resisted temptations and overcame procrastination, researchers gave them buttons to press every time they exerted their willpower throughout the day. This would help the researchers see what the Willpowered people did differently from the rest of us.

But then something funny happened – they hardly ever pushed the buttons!

The researchers were baffled. Why would these Willpowered individuals hardly ever use their willpower? 

The answer was that they didn’t need to. They set up their lives to strengthen and conserve their willpower - making all of their good decisions easier. 

They did these 10 things differently than the rest of us:


There is a twist to the story of the Willpowered individuals in Germany and the Netherlands. Many of them reported that if they were to get behind a bar stool, they would never leave.

Others reported that they were unable to resist sweets whenever they were around. It seemed that these "saints" were prone to the same temptations as the rest of us. [1]

So what was their secret?

Their secret, it turned out, was that these people simply did not put themselves in those situations. Their lifestyles were well-organized to prevent having to look temptation in the face.

These people played offense. 

They thought about what might tempt them in the future – whether it was alcohol, sweets, or distractions from work – and set themselves up to avoid them. They were seemingly willpower super heroes because they almost never had to use it.  

To become Willpowered, think about why you stray from your goals – then set yourself up for success beforehand.

Pack your gym clothes the night before.

Set a coffee timer to help you wake up.

Don’t keep unhealthy food in the house.

Free your workplace from distractions.  

These all seem simple, but doing this will help you use your willpower more effectively and stick to your goals.

2.    DON’T FAIL

This is probably the biggest difference between the Willpowered person and the everyday person.

The everyday person sets goals that are hopelessly unrealistic. They set plans to lose 10lbs, quit smoking, learn a new language and spend more time with family – all at the same time.

Then they burn themselves out, feel hopeless, and give up on every one of their goals.

Those who are Willpowered do the opposite of this. They set up realistic goals, with realistic plans in realistic timelines. And when I say realistic, I mean goals that they know for a fact they will not fail. [2]

You have probably set up so many unrealistic goals in the past that you have forgotten what it’s like to accomplish one. Not only does achieving a goal give you an intense feeling of accomplishment, but it also gives you the confidence that you can achieve the next goal, and the next goal after that. 

To become Willpowered, set up ONE goal that you know you will not fail. You do not need big results right away. You just need to take a step in the right direction. Then once you accomplish that, take another step. There is no rush as long as every step you take is in the right direction. 


There is nothing special about those who are Willpowered. They don’t achieve huge feats through intense Herculean efforts. They simply show up and do their work – day after day.

They show up to the gym on a regular basis.

They are friendly and productive at work every day.

They are early to bed every night and early to rise every morning. 

Then, over time, these small victories add up. They lead to a stronger willpower to resist temptations or summon strength to persevere on challenges.

Most of us take the opposite approach. Rather than simply eating a healthy breakfast every morning, we eat whatever we want. Then we go on a crash diet to lose big weight, fast!

Rather than exercising for 30 minutes/day, we don’t exercise at all. Then we go on an intense exercise program that promises us “sculpted abs in 8-weeks!”

Rather than working on project for 30 minutes every day, we wait until the last minute. Then chug coffee, inhale junk food and pull an all-nighter to get it done.

To become Willpowered, you must have patience and persistence. Do not try to accomplish huge goals in a short timeline, simply change one daily behavior that – over time – will lead to remarkable results. Then do it with extraordinary consistency. [3]  

Remember, water cuts through rock not through its strength, but its persistence. 

4.    SLEEP 

“Sleep is for the weak” – Margaret Thatcher

Although Margaret Thatcher meant well by this quote, she was very wrong. The more you sleep, the stronger you are – at least in terms of willpower.

When you don’t get enough sleep, your pre-frontal cortex (the part of your brain you use to exert willpower) takes the biggest hit. When you’re tired, your brain cells are not able to absorb glucose – what the brain uses for fuel – as efficiently. Meaning that you lose the “power” in your willpower. [4]

Your brain will recognize the fact that it’s not getting enough glucose, and immediately start to crave simple carbohydrates and caffeine to replenish its supply. This is why you’ll find pizza boxes and coffee cups lined across college campuses during final exams. The students’ brains need refueling! 

There’s even worse news. Because your brain cells aren’t absorbing glucose as efficiently as they should be, not only will you give in to eating pizza, you will eat much more than you need. Your brain will continue to crave until it gets as much glucose as it can out of your bloodstream – regardless of how many calories that may be. 

In short, those who are sleep deprived certainly will not be Willpowered.

To avoid this fate, the obvious answer is to get more sleep! But that is easier said than done in today’s world of constant distractions.

So here are a few ways you can get more willpower out of the sleep you are currently getting:


Most of us underestimate the affect that lights in our room have on our sleep. When your room is completely dark, it helps your brain shut down and sleep more efficiently. This helps you get more rest out of the hours you lay in bed; helping to restore your willpower. [5

2. NAP

Other research suggests that it is the amount of consecutive hours you spend awake that matters the most. So breaking up the day with a nap can have significant benefits. It is better to sleep for 7 hours with a 1-hour nap than it is to sleep for 8 consecutive hours without taking that break during the day. [6] 


Getting more sleep on the weekend will create a reserve of energy your brain can use for willpower during the week. So if you cannot squeeze more hours of sleep in during the week, see if you can catch up on the weekend. [7]


Meditation is the fastest and most effective way to become Willpowered. By meditating you are training the brain to focus and resist the urge to wander. 

Research shows that after just 2-3 days of practicing meditation for 10 minutes, your brain will be able to focus better, you will have more energy, and you will be less stressed. [8]  

There are a lot of myths surrounding meditation. Burning incense, chanting, wearing robes, etc. So let's start by explaining what meditation really is.  

Meditation is simply the practice of bringing your thoughts to the present moment.

47% of our lives are spent either reminiscing about the past or thinking about what we are going to do in the future. We spend very little time with a clear, focused mind on what we are doing right now. [9

Meditation attempts to do just that. This is usually done by sitting upright in a room that is clear of distractions and focusing solely on your breathing. However, it can be achieved with any activity that brings your full focus and attention. 

To become Willpowered through meditation, check out this article which will give you the tools and exercises you need to begin adding the habit of daily meditation.


It probably isn’t shocking to you that those who are Willpowered exercise regularly. But the shocking thing is just how much simply exercising strengthens your willpower!

Researchers took 24 non-exercisers between 18 and 50 to partake in a 2-month study. They were given free gym memberships and asked to exercise just 1x/week for the first month and 3x/week for the second month.

Throughout the study they would test the participants on various self-control activities from resisting temptations to persevering through challenging tasks.

The results were nothing short of remarkable.

After just 2 months of exercise every participant had indeed increased his or her ability to resist temptations and persevere on tasks.


But the benefits didn’t end there. Without any instruction by the researchers, the participants also:

·      Procrastinated less

·      Felt more in control of their emotions

·      Reduced smoking, alcohol and caffeine intake

·      Saved more money

·      Ate less junk food

·      Began eating a healthier diet

·      Watched less TV

·      Spent more time studying

·      Splurged on impulse purchases less

·      Were more likely to be on time to appointments

All of these activities occurred naturally from the habitual exercise! [10]

Now, before you set a plan to go from not exercising at all to exercising every day, pause. It’s important to remember that for a full month, these participants only went to the gym 1x/week. That means they only went 4 times total in the entire first month!

To become Willpowered, it is not necessary for you to go crazy with your exercise plan. To start getting all of the benefits listed above, you just need to make a plan that is consistent, not overwhelming. Whether you can exercise 1x/week or 4x/week, it doesn’t matter. To see the benefits, you just need to set a plan that you will not fail.


Do you floss your teeth before brushing? What do you do when you first get to work? 

We tend to believe that these and every other choice we make throughout the day goes through a process of well-informed decision-making.

But 45% of our daily-decision are made completely automatically. From what we decide to eat, what we decide to wear and what we decide to do when we first get to work, our brains are running on autopilot. [11

Unfortunately, these automatic decisions are made in the part of the brain that also motivates you to eat unhealthy food, procrastinate your important tasks and skip your workout in favor of an evening on the couch.

So the more you run your life on auto-pilot, the more you strengthen your cravings and desire to put things off until tomorrow. [12]

You can become Willpowered by simply being more mindful of your daily decisions. This is as easy as pausing to question why you are making the decision to get coffee as soon as you make it into the office. Or why you are eating cereal for breakfast rather than eggs. 

Simply question these daily decisions and you will strengthen your willpower to make better choices throughout the day. [12]


The greatest human fear is not death, it is public speaking. Though, in reality, the act of speaking is not really what we are afraid of. We are really afraid of making ourselves vulnerable.

We fear criticism

We fear judgment

We fear simply being bad at something and letting others know about it.

But if you do not make yourself vulnerable, then you will never grow.

Those who are Willpowered venture outside of their comfort zones. They embrace the fact that they will be vulnerable, but they learn from their mistakes. They are able to let the criticism they will receive from others go. Because they know they will be better for it.

However, although they venture outside of what is comfortable, they do not set themselves up for complete failure and chaos. Instead, they spend their time in the learning zone. [13]  

To become Willpowered, push yourself just beyond what is comfortable, but not so far that everything will be chaotic and out of your control. Do not be afraid of giving a public speech, but do not make your first one as the Keynote speaker for an audience of thousands of people.


It should come as no surprise that those who are Willpowered eat healthy on a regular basis. But the surprising thing is that eating healthy actually increases your willpower! Which then makes continuing to eat healthy easier. It’s a beautiful cycle.

When the body takes in food, it creates a chemical known as glucose that travels through the blood stream. This is what the brain uses as its source of fuel to think, create, and exert willpower. So to ensure a healthy stock of willpower, you want to make sure your brain has enough glucose to use as energy.  [14

Any food that contains calories will give your brain glucose to work with. But not all glucose is created equally. Sugary foods will cause a quick spike of glucose, giving you willpower fuel for the short-term, but will cause a subsequent crash that depletes your willpower just as fast. 

The best thing you can do is keep the glucose level in your bloodstream steady. This will give your brain a consistent reserve of fuel to exert willpower for the long-term. To accomplish this, researchers suggest a low-glycemic diet. [15

Here are some low-glycemic foods that will give you long-term willpower fuel: 


Nothing fancy is required – just lean cuts of beef, poultry, pork and fish. 


Specifically those nuts that are high in omega-3 fatty acids like walnuts, pecans and cashews. (Note: this does not include legumes like peanuts).


Fresh fruit is preferred over dried fruit because dried fruits have a high concentration of sugar in them. This will result in the glucose spike for the short term and lead to a subsequent crash. Some good choices are bananas, blueberries, apples and cherries. 


All vegetables will help build your long-term willpower, but specific veggies have a lot of willpower fuel in them are root-based. These include sweet potatoes, potatoes, and carrots which will all give you some serious willpower fuel! 

Now, before you get tempted to completely overhaul your diet, the people in the study admitted that they were helpless to resist sweets and alcohol whenever they were put in front of them. So they did indulge from time to time. 

So never say never. Do not completely deny yourself from eating what you really want. Just ensure that most of your meals are healthy – and always have a healthy breakfast.


The last thing those who are Willpowered do is focus on the process, not the results.

When you set a goal to lose weight, get a promotion, or complete a marathon, you usually focus on the ultimate result. And why not? You need to have an idea of what you are working for.

But in working toward any goal, there are always going to be factors outside of your control that affect your results.

If your goal is to lose weight, you cannot control your genetic disposition. Some people are going to have an easier time than others.

If your goal is to run a marathon, you cannot control all of the factors that may affect your training schedule. You may get sick, you may get injured, and you may get slammed by work or family emergencies that are more important.  

If your goal is to get a promotion, you cannot control who else the company will look at as well. You can't control what other candidates' level of experience is, or what connections they may have.

All of these factors lie outside of your control. So if you focus on result-oriented goals like this, even if you do everything right, you may still not get the result you want. 

Then if you do not achieve the result, your willpower can take a major hit.  

You lose your motivation and inspiration as you begin to question whether or not you will ever be able to achieve what you really want in life. This can leave you deeply debilitated and not only derail these goals, but any others you may have in the future as well.

You can beat this phenomenon by shifting your focus to what you can control. Rather than being results-oriented, you must become process-oriented. Even the best-laid plans can be disrupted by outside forces.

You cannot control your body’s ability to lose a certain amount of weight, but you can control the food that you put into it.

You cannot ensure that you will complete a marathon, but you can control your effort in training for it.  

You cannot control whether or not your boss promotes you, but you can get into the office early on a regular basis with a positive attitude.

To become Willpowered, use the results you want to set your course of action – but then forget about them. After you know where you’re going, simply focus on the process and the effort it will take to get there. This will keep you motivated and improving day-by-day; rather than focusing on a result that seems hopelessly out of reach. 


There is nothing special about those who are the most Willpowered. They simply have a slightly different perspective on life than the everyday person.

Rather than use their willpower as a last resort, they use it to avoid temptations in the first place.

Rather than setting huge goals, that require huge efforts, in short periods of time; they set realistic goals that they can accomplish over a long period of time.

Rather than continuing to put things off and frantically trying to make up for it at the last minute, they focus on doing the small things everyday.

And rather than focusing their attention on the end result - which is ultimately out of their control - they focus on their process, on their effort and on what they can control.

Then, at the end of each day, they have taken one small step in the right direction. And are prepared to take another one tomorrow.