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The Benefits of Willpower and Self-Discipline

Melissa Rappel

Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College



Past research proves that willpower and self-discipline have countless beneficial aspects on a

persons life. Multiple experiments on willpower, show self-discipline is necessary to overcome

unacceptable behaviors. Included are a couple of different research studies as well as an online

poll that confirms willpower is a requirement for healthy behaviors. While developing these

healthy behaviors, an individual will also strengthen his or her self-control and self-discipline.

Self-discipline gives sense of control over a persons life, their actions, and reactions. Willpower

is an essential tool for a fruitful and happy life.


The Benefits of Willpower and Self-Discipline

Studies prove that willpower and self-discipline can improve ones life. With more self-

control, individuals can eat better, exercise more often, avoid smoking, using drugs, and alcohol,

as well as develop better study habits. To change a negative aspect of a persons life into a

healthy change, one must first determine his or her willpower, and then he or she must

incorporate healthy behaviors while strengthening self-control and discipline.

Willpower is the ability to deliberately control short-term temptations in order to meet the

long-term goals. It is the capacity to delay gratification. Over forty years ago, a psychologist

named Walter Mischel did an experiment on multiple children called the Delay of Gratification

in Children. They were each given a plate of marshmallows and were told if they could wait to

eat, they would get two marshmallows. If they could restrain themselves, they could ring a bell

but would only receive one marshmallow. Later Walter revisited his subjects and found that those

who waited, were more likely to score higher on the SAT, and their parents were more likely to

rate them as having a greater ability to plan, handle stress, respond to reason, exhibit self-control

in frustrating situations and concentrate without becoming distracted (Mishel, 1989, p. 936-

937). By establishing the long-term goal and motivation for change, individuals are working and

applying that behavior towards that goal.

The benefits of willpower also extend to learning and developing new healthy behaviors.

Examples of such behavior include: eating better, exercising more often, better studying habits,

not indulging in smoking, drinking, or using of drugs. While achieving willpower, self-

discipline, and healthy behaviors, the individual is developing good self-control habits. A British

psychologist did an experiment at a Scotland orthopedic hospital on elderly patients who had just

undergone surgery. He wanted them to develop healthy habits of exercise for their recovery

process after surgery. The researcher gave the patients a booklet on rehabilitation schedules, and

in the back of the brochure were empty pages. The researcher asked the patients to write down

weekly goals. After three months, she reviewed their booklets and found that those who wrote

down goals and developed willpower and healthy habits were walking after the surgery twice as

fast as the patients who had not written anything. The patients who wrote in the books were very

precise and detailed, on explaining the reasons their independence and goals had them succeed

faster in recovery after surgery (Orbell & Paschal, 1992). Lasting lifestyle and behavior changes

dont happen overnight. Willpower is a learned skill, not an inherent trait. We all have the

capacity to develop skills to make changes last, said Katherine C. Nordal, Ph.D, executive

director for professional practice at American Psychological Association (APA). It is important

to break down seemingly unattainable goals into manageable portions (Nordal, 2010, para. 3).

The next step is strengthening self-control and discipline. Self-control and discipline help

with self-destructive, addictive, obsessive, and compulsive behavior. It also helps build up a

persons self-esteem and gives the sense of control and balance of your life. Duckworth and

Seligman did a study and proved that even self-discipline outweighs Intelligence Quotient (IQ).

In a longitudinal study of 140 eighth-grade students, self-discipline measured by self-report,

parent report, teacher report, and monetary choice questionnaires in the fall predicted final

grades, school attendance, standardized achievement-test scores, and selection into a competitive

high school program the following spring. Self-discipline measured in the fall accounted for

more than twice as much variance as IQ in final grades, high school selection, school attendance,

hours spent doing homework, hours spent watching television (inversely), and the time of day

students began their homework. (Duckworth & Seligman, 2009, p. 939-944). Another

experiment, which demonstrates the power of self-control and willpower, was conducted by

Oaten and Cheng. Australian scientists Oaten and Chang (2006) did a two-month volunteer

study of exercise. This study was based solely on willpower and self-control. After two months

the individuals who participated did it out of habit and willpower and had success in nearly all

areas of their lives. People reported to smoking less, eating healthier, improving their study

habits, spending less, and drinking less alcohol (Oaten & Cheng, 2006, para. 9).

Long-term behavior change is necessary to overcome the barriers to healthy living.

According to the American Psychological Association poll conducted online by Harris

Interactive in early March (2009), fewer than one in five adults (sixteen percent) reported being

very successful at making health-related improvements such as losing weight (twenty percent),

starting a regular exercise program (fifteen percent), eating a healthier diet (ten percent), and

reducing stress (seven percent) so far this year, although about nine in ten adults (eighty-eight

percent) who resolved to make a health-related change say they have been at least somewhat

successful at achieving it since January. Despite these efforts, about three-quarters (seventy-eight

percent) of those who made a health-related resolution say significant obstacles block them from

making progress, such as willpower (thirty-three percent), making changes alone (twenty-four

percent), and experiencing too much stress (twenty percent) (American Psychological

Association [APA], 2009).


In conclusion, to change a negative aspect of a persons life into a healthy change, one

must first determine his or her willpower, then he or she must incorporate healthy behaviors

while strengthening self-control and discipline. Many studies prove willpower is obtainable if the

individual establishes the motivation for change. The individual will then develop healthy

behaviors and habits, while strengthening self-control and discipline. Some strategies to help

with self-control: focus on one goal at a time, avoid temptations, make a plan to achieve the

long-term goal, monitor behaviors towards reaching the goal, believe in yourself, reward

yourself, and seek support if needed (American Psychological Association [APA], n.d.). In the

process of changing one long-term pattern, an individual can change many different aspects in

their lives. It enables him or her to take charge of their life.


Mischel, M. et al. (1989). Delay of gratification in children. Science, 244, 933-938.

Duckworth, A., & Seligman, M. (2005). Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic

performance in adolescents. Psychological Science, 16, 939-944.

Orbell, S., & Sheeran, P., (2000), Motivational and volitional processes in action initiation: A

Field Study of the Role of Implementation Intentions, Journal of Applied Social

Psychology 30, no. 4, 780-797.

Oaten, M., & Cheng, K. (2006). Longitudinal gains in self-regulation from physical exercise.

British Journal of Health Psychology, 11, 717-733.