How to develop will power

Since starting this blog I have reread some of my own books on self confidence and personal development, and generally researched and followed up links on the topic. Some I have made reference to, or quoted. I have paid particular attention to any source that has given exercises to build self confidence.

My aim is to build a resource that will be useful, not just interesting or entertaining. Reading books on any aspect of personal development I always feel they have a major drawback – when the reader is presented with an exercise to carry out, its so, so easy to turn over the page (promising ourselves to return to it later!).

Personal development involves change, and you won’t change by just passing by. If you do try to follow some of the exercises you come across another problem – changing habits usually involves effort, some discomfort, and will power. Surprisingly, few books even mention will power, suggesting that just once someone has embarked on a new course of action keeping going is simple.

We all know from our own experiences that this is nonsense. The surge in gym usage in January, followed by a decline the rest of the year, and the growth of life coaching are two examples of how we lack will power.

The only book I have that has a chapter on will power is “A Touch of Greatness”, by Frank Tibolt. I list this book on my About page as one of the most influential personal development books I have read. Rereading this chapter, Tibolt starts off with a great quote by Huxley on the trait of will power and self discipline:-

“The most valuable education is that which trains us to do what should be done, when it should be done, whether we feel like it or not.”

Tiblot makes will power second only to goal setting in importance and says himself:-

“Knowing you can depend on yourself to finish whatever you start builds self confidence faster than any other exercise discovered so far.”

So how do you develop will power? The Tibolt method is to make yourself do something useful everyday for no other reason than you don’t feel like doing it. In other words, get tough with yourself. To make it work best, draw up a list of things that fit with your lifestyle and assign one to each day ahead. You could even select one at random each day, so you avoid making things to easy.

What sort of things are we talking about?

Get up 30 minutes early and have a walk/read a book

Watch no TV at all that day

Buy a newspaper/magazine that is the opposite of your normal reading (and read it!)

If you are going out and would normally drink alcohol – abstain.

Smile and say hello to at least 5 people on your commute to work (unless this may get you arrested for being so abnormal!)

Think of compliments/say thank you for 5 colleagues at work – or friends/family members.

You get the idea? You can also add numerous things under “finish doing….” or “volunteer to…”. There is a movement that encourages “Random Acts of Kindness” – doing things for others out of kindness, without being asked. If you read through some of the things that have been done, you may get some more ideas of what you can try. Give it a go.

Robert @ reason4smile December 16, 2007 at 7:58 am

Hi David,
Thanks for sharing the great quotes from Tiblot…
Particularly this one, “The most valuable education is that which trains us to do what should be done, when it should be done, whether we feel like it or not.”

Often we procrastinate, we prioritize pleasure and we’re afraid of failure and running away from the hard task we are facing.

Willpower together with confidence that you can face the challenge is surely important, do it even when you feel like not doing it.

Thanks for sharing, I’m going to clean the house now =)


Benjamin December 16, 2007 at 7:13 pm

David, that is a great quote. I have hundreds of books on PD and the like, but none of them really teaches self-discipline/will power. That is a big loss as it seems to be the key thing that holds most people back from achieving their goals.

Evan Hadkins December 17, 2007 at 11:27 am

If you fight with yourself, whatever the result, you lose.

Most of the personal development books deal with this kind of thing under passion and purpose, following your bliss and so on.

The problem with just doing what should be done is knowing what this is. Put another way there is no guidance given on discernment. No way to know if you are simply being stupid and harming yourself and others in the process.

In my view ‘discipline’ may be a very valuable tool. But it is only as valuable as the ends it is applied to.

Bruce December 17, 2007 at 12:38 pm

Will power is an important thing to develop. It alone will not get us where we want to go. I think that it is over-rated as a method of change. Knowing where you are in your change process and taking the appropriate steps for that stage is a better use of your will power. Doing inappropriate activities for your place in the change process sets you up for failure. Will-power develops from knowong what you want and being willing to try and fail then try again. If you try in a higher yield activity for your place in the change cycle you will power is more likely to sustain you to a successful outcome in that activity.

Karen (Karooch from Scraps of Mind) December 18, 2007 at 12:18 am

I always find that starting to do these good things is easy David. i usually come out of a course or from reading a great book and am full of enthusiasm to make the necessary changes. It’s sticking at them or returning to them when something occurs to break the momentum that i find most difficult.

I guess that’s where willpower comes in. Sigh.

David December 20, 2007 at 1:24 am

Thanks for all the comments. With Evans point I see will power, or self mastery, as ultimately learning to co-operate with ourself. The fight happens when we lack will power and give in to our pleasure seeking behaviour over our desire to improve ourself in some way.
Will power can be an important “tool” if we are making changes. Developing good habits is equally useful. But our thinking puts everything in context – however strong willed or well ingrained our habits, things happen. Life is never a smooth, totally linear journey. If the momentum does gets broken, as Karen mentions, not to see that as the end of that change but a hiccup and keep going.
I basically disagree with your argument Bruce. Will power isn’t the be all and end all, but is still an important tool. Some people learn no self discipline and our modern world its so easy to take the path of least resistance. Learning the basic principle of doing things when we don’t want to do them isn’t going to set you up for failure, but give confidence in your control over yourself.

Ivan January 4, 2008 at 5:47 am


Glad you did mentioned Frank Tibolt’s amazing book “A Touch of greatness”…this is one of my favorite books,of all the books I have read in last 30 years…this book have helped me most to improve and change my life for better in many areas.About 12 years ago I loaned this book to a realtive who was 40 years old,alcoholic, was broke,with no job…today this man is married have 2 kids,and is very successful with his own job placement company here in Toronto.I have vitnissed a miracle of life change,and I do beleive that this amazing book did play a big role in life change from despair to success.I highly recomend this old time self help classic to anyone,who is serious for making changes for better in their own life.

Peter James November 12, 2008 at 1:55 pm

I heard a great piece of advice once: “Look forward to the things you don’t want to do everyday. It is those things that will make you a success.”

Great insight in this post and it reminded me of this precious advice.

Peter Jamess last blog post..Make A Change…Yes We Can!!!

zedoreku December 17, 2009 at 5:23 am

thank you for the article .
keep the good work .

zedoreku December 17, 2009 at 11:23 am

thank you for the article .
keep the good work .

roy@workwear October 20, 2010 at 4:34 pm

For me persistence,consistency are the keys to develop a will power.You just need to get rid of negative vibes,which you feel when you get fail. Being persistent and positive always reinforces the will power and that is my personal experience.

{ 3 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: