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TWM 28 – Where Does Willpower Come From? How to Best Access It?


Where Does Willpower Come From? How to Best Access It?

Today's Will Power Moment - 28

with Dr. James Meschino

Everyone struggles in some way with temptation, addiction, distraction and procrastination. These are not individual weaknesses that reveal our personal inadequacies, rather they are universal experiences and part of the human condition itself. Studies show that an important way to improve our lives on many levels, including relationship success, financial success, career success, dealing more effectively with stress, and achieving more happiness and better health, is to improve willpower capacity. Dr. Kelly McGonigal, who teaches The Science of Willpower course at Stanford University, states that “If we want to improve our lives, willpower is not a bad place to start”.

The thing to understand is that willpower is broken up into three different powers: “I won’t power”, “I will power”, and “I want power”. When it comes to wellness, “I won’t power”, “I will power” and “I want power” look something like this: We look to “I won’t power” when we want resist giving into temptation (eating donuts, French fries, high fat burgers, cheese cake, chocolate bars). We tap into “I will power” when making ourselves do the things we don’t feel like doing – like exercising when we don’t feel like it. The third power is “I want power.” When facing temptation or flirting with procrastination, we need to remember that what we realy want to do is most likely among the following:

  • Fit into skinny jeans
  • Improve cholesterol, blood sugar and/or blood pressure through lifestyle measures, so we don’t die young, have a stroke, or require a leg amputation due to gangrene
  • Add some lean muscle mass and muscle tone to your body
  • Improve your fitness level

“I want power” is the reason you’re making an effort in the first place. It is a powerful driver of success if you can tap into it regularly. The problem is, most people don’t, which results in a weakening of their “I won’t power” and their “I will power”.

Willpower is about harnessing the I won’t; I will; l I want powers. Where do these powers come from? Actually, they come from the prefrontal cortex in your brain. The prefrontal cortex is located right behind your forehead at the front of the brain. It has three regions: the upper left side, which specializes in “I will” power: It helps you start up – and stick to – boring, difficult or stressful tasks, like staying on the treadmill when you’d rather hit the shower. The right side of the prefrontal cortex handles “I won’t” power, holding you back from following every impulse or craving (i.e. eating the donut, texting while driving, doing drugs, smoking, binge drinking, etc.) Together these two regions of the prefrontal cortex control what you do from moment to moment. The third region of the prefrontal cortex, just a bit lower and in the middle of the prefrontal cortex, keeps track of your goals and your desires. It decides what you want. The more rapidly these brain cells fire, the more motivated you are to take action or resist temptation. This part of the brain remembers what you really want, even when the rest of your brain is screaming Eat that, Drink that, Smoke that, Buy that, etc.

The thing to appreciate is, every willpower challenge requires doing something difficult, whether it’s walking away from temptation or not running away from the stressful situation or task at hand. That’s why reminding yourself daily of your ” I want power ” is so important to being able to keep your “I won’t power” and your “I will power” moving you in the direction you actually want to go.

One really good way to tap into your “I Want Power” is to post a picture of yourself in a highly visible location. It should be a picture of you at a time when you looked the most fit and vibrant. Or it could be a picture of a person with the body you feel you could aspire to achieve if you stay true to your wellness game-plan. You can post it on your fridge, in your office, or in your bedroom, but make sure it is somewhere you will see it virtually every day. The sight of the image will increase the firing of the “I want” area of the prefrontal cortex, which will, in turn, highly influence your “I won’t power” and your “I will power” in a way that will move you closer to your goal and greatly help you overcome the daily temptations and distractions of life that can pull you off track.

Remember, nobody does it perfectly. Everyone wrestles with temptation, distraction, procrastination, and some form of addictive behaviour to some degree. You’re not alone. The key is to tap into your “I want power” daily, which in turn helps your “I won’t power” and your “I will power” to drive your actions towards your goal.I suggest you post an inspirational picture of yourself, or someone else, in a highly visible location, to help muster your “I want power” each day.  Or take those skinny jeans out of your closet and hang them somewhere where you can see them, as another form of visible motivation.

Ok, I will, I won’t, I want –  You Have The Power!

Dr. James Meschino

Dr. James Meschino


Dr. James Meschino, DC, MS, ROHP, is an educator, author, and researcher having lectured to thousands of healthcare professionals across North America. He holds a Master’s Degree in Science with specialties in human nutrition and biology and is recognized as an expert in the field of nutrition, anti-aging, fitness, and wellness as well as the author of numerous books.

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