Willpower Shortage

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.



Willpower Shortage.

Of late it has become standard practice to decry the shortage of willpower here in America, maybe the shortage of willpower on planet earth. How did this worldwide shortage develop?

The shortage does not seem to be of recent origin. Writers from the Plymouth Colony, writing shortly after the founding in the 1620s expressed their concern that people could not display significant willpower to avoid breaking the laws. I am told that there are passages in the Bible about a lack of willpower though I am not sure if it is found in the book of Leviticus or not. Presumably, this worldwide shortage of willpower has been going on for thousands of years.

If we can find oil deep under the sea and rocks on the moon why is it that there has been no significant discovery of additional willpower in all these millenniums? Perhaps we have been looking for the wrong thing in the wrong places. Behaviorists, like Martin and Pear, believe they have discovered the source of the willpower shortage. They say there are in fact two very different creatures that we are calling willpower and that we keep looking for the wrong one in the wrong place. Could that be?


Willpower One might more properly be called determination.  This is the willpower required to do something that we know would be good for us but that is unpleasant or painful while we are doing it. Exercise is a good example. We all know we should do more exercise. It has all those positive benefits, like losing weight and being healthier. But it is hard to think about doing something that involves effort and possible unpleasant pain when there is that nice warm comfy couch sitting there and there are 36 new movies on the cable that begs to be watched.

It takes a special brand of willpower to give up a current pleasure or reward, sitting on the couch and watching movies, to secure far-off benefits like weight loss and improved health. To continue to engage in this effort for a deferred gain we need lots of positive encouragement and reinforcements. This is why people who exercise in groups where they encourage each other are more likely to succeed than those who try to do an exercise program alone.

The problem with shortages of this first kind of willpower is that the current negative of the action does not seem to have much connection to a far-off positive result like weight loss. It is hard to make yourself do something today for a gain a long time from now. This kind of willpower deficiency also accounts for the lack of retirement savings of many citizens.

One way to offset this is to turn the negative into a positive. Instead of exercising, pick a hobby that involves activity. Square dancing comes to mind. You get some positive people interactions coupled with the advantage of exercise and it could be fun.


Will Power Two, maybe we should call this self-denial, is the kind of willpower needed to get ourselves to give up something that we know is not good for us but is so much fun. In this type of willpower, the problem is to skip those extra goodies that put on the pounds. We know that obesity is bad. And we know that eating a few extra calories will over time pack the pounds on. But it is hard to connect in our minds the extra pounds and the health impairment a year from now with the one extra cookie. Usually, the one extra cookie wins out.

In trying to cut down on things like extra cookies or cigarettes the challenge is to give up a current pleasure for a far off good. Addictions fall in this class of shortage of willpower. One behavioral approach is to create a script that you say to yourself. Behaviorists call this self-instruction. You might say to yourself that you do not need that drug or that cookie and that you are looking good. Substance abusers find that the more time they spend with people who encourage them to stay sober the more likely they are to succeed.

At this point, we are almost a month into the year. How many of you have given up on your New Years’ resolution? Did you read my series on stages of change? Think about where you are in this change process and how you might start moving forward.

If you are short on willpower, what positive things could you use to reward yourself for doing those hard to do things? What could you do to make giving up those current pleasures to secure a long-term goal feel less like a sacrifice?

Anyone out there have an experience to share that involves making a change and increasing your willpower?

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

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2 thoughts on “Willpower Shortage

  1. Pingback: Undoing a bad habit – lessons from the big box stores | counselorssoapbox

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