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Essentials for Healthy Living: Understanding and Using Willpower

Submitted by on September 25, 2013 – 10:53 PM

mf-willpower_fWillpower is not an innate trait that you’re either born with or without. Rather it’s a complex mind-body response that can be compromised by stress, sleep deprivation and nutrition and can be strengthened through certain practices. Willpower shares lessons on how to focus our strength, resist temptation, and redirect our lives. It shows readers how to be realistic when setting goals, monitor their progress, and how to keep faith when they falter.


By blending practical wisdom with the best of recent research science, willpower makes it clear that whatever we seek, from happiness to good health to financial security; we won’t reach our goals until we first learn to harness self-control. It has been righty said, “Willpower is a mental muscle that you can train. Those who do so are more likely to lead happy and successful lives.”


When we talk about diseases, it is the willpower of a person that encourages one to fight his/her disease. Apart from the financial issues regarding the treatment, most of the people are scared of their outcomes that they might have to suffer from. It has been observed that other than medicine it’s the strong willpower of a person that cures the disease. Most of us have observed in our daily practice that those patients who are critically ill, who have to go through multiple procedures, mental stress and pain during their treatment period get scared, although being apprehensive or phobic about the situation is natural, it is the job of a health professional to help them keep their faith intact because other than medication, it is the willpower that gives him the strength & courage to fight for life.


Have you ever thought if willpower resides in the mind or in the body? It is present in both. Psychologists have found that willpower is a lot like stress, it’s not just a psychological experience, but a full-blown mind-body response. The stress response is a reaction to an external threat, for example a fire alarm going off. Similarly, the willpower response is a reaction to an internal conflict.

The biology of stress and the biology of willpower are simply incompatible. So any time we’re under chronic stress it’s harder to find our willpower. The fight-or-flight response floods the body with energy to act instinctively and steals it from the areas of the brain needed for a wise decision-making. Stress also encourages you to focus on immediate, short-term goals and outcomes, but self-control requires keeping the big picture in mind.

Learning how to manage your stress in a better way or even just remembering to take a few deep breaths when you’re feeling overwhelmed or tempted, is one of the most important things you can do to improve your willpower. It’s not that some people have willpower and some don’t. It’s just that some people are ready to change and others are not. Some researchers examined brain activity in some subjects using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

When presented with tempting stimuli, individuals with low self-control showed brain patterns that differed from those with high self-control. The researchers found that the prefrontal cortex (a region that controls executive functions, such as making choices) was more active in subjects with higher self-control. And the ventral striatum (a region thought to process desires and rewards) showed boosted activity in those with lower self-control. Willpower is correlated with positive life outcomes such as better grades, higher self-esteem, lower substance abuse rates, greater financial security and improved physical and mental health, ultimately it brings a positive change in one’s attitude of life.

Being in a medical profession it’s our responsibility to boost up patient’s strength and willpower and motivate them for the proper treatment of their disease on time rather than hiding it. Because having a strong willpower changes the perception of a certain situation and inculcates a more positive attitude towards that specific condition. Just as muscles are strengthened by regular exercise, regularly practicing self-control may improve willpower and strength over time.

About the Author: Hana Shamim is a pharm-D graduate from Baqai Medical University. She is currently working as hospital pharmacist at Tabba Heart Institute, Pakistan. Hana can be reached at [email protected]

About this article: This article is competing for the JPMS International Medical Writing Contest 2013

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