How to improve willpower to get what you want

Ayda Page
3 min readJan 29, 2024

According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, 71% of us believe that willpower is a skill that can be developed. This is encouraging, and actually countless psychological studies have confirmed that this belief is accurate.

Even though we may be motivated and make a decision, keeping going when things get tough is often challenging. Activating our willpower is the key to resisting short term temptations and staying on track. For example, if you want to lose some weight and start dieting but someone brought some delicious cookies to work then it’s very hard to say no. Almost 93% of people reported making some negative decisions due to that lack of willpower.

So what does it mean to control willpower, and why is it challenging to maintain? One of the most common questions I’m asked is about maintaining motivation. My response is to persist in your everyday activities, as repetition will enhance the likelihood of attaining your objectives. Exerting willpower activates the prefrontal cortex, a brain area involved in decision-making and self-control, helping us to restrain ourself from actions that might be unsafe, unhealthy, or unproductive. The amygdala is critical for initiating automatic responses to emotional triggers, such as those associated with gains or losses. And the part of the brain called ventromedial prefrontal cortex plays a significant role in controlling these impulses.

Another part of the brain that has only recently been discovered is named the anterior mid-cingulate cortex (aMCC). Scientists have identified this as a key region in the brain that significantly influences our motivation and goal attainment. Its activation is closely linked to our capacity for self-regulation and emotional control, abilities that are crucial for setting meaningful goals, monitoring progress, and adjusting actions to increase our likelihood of success. The aMCC is crucial in enabling us to power through obstacles and realize our desired goals, and by engaging it we can effectively tackle challenges and reach our potential, leading to greater fulfillment in all parts of our lives.

To activate the aMCC we can participate in activities requiring focused attention, complex decision-making, and conflict resolution. Examples include solving challenging puzzles, engaging in strategy games, undertaking complex problem-solving tasks, practicing mindfulness or meditation, and dealing with conflicting information or dilemmas, like debating or negotiating.

Visualization is an effective method for activating the aMCC and boosting cognitive abilities, and integrating visualization techniques into endurance training can further enhance aMCC activation. Visualizing yourself successfully navigating challenges, enduring fatigue, and achieving goals during activities like running, cycling, or swimming not only builds mental resilience but also stimulates the aMCC, thereby improving executive functions and cognitive skills. Regularly including visualization exercises in your exercise routine, along with other cognitively demanding tasks — and consistently and continuously practicing them — can maximize the potential of the aMCC.

But even without the visualization, endurance activities are effective in themselves in stimulating the aMCC due to the mental resilience and prolonged physical exertion that they require. Even daily routines that include tasks that require focused attention, complex decision-making, and overcoming discomfort will contribute to stimulating the aMCC. Regular practice of these activities, especially those that seem less appealing like uncomfortable workouts, household chores or challenging work tasks, trains the brain to handle difficulties and strengthens the aMCC, thereby enhancing cognitive abilities and executive functioning.

A simple decision to regularly push ourselves to do something that we might not feel like doing, something that might be challenging or uncomfortable, can effectively activate the aMCC. The result of that little bit of discomfort can be truly life changing.


American Psychological Association. “What Americans Think of Willpower”.

WebMD. “4 Surprising Facts About Willpower”.

Penn Medicine. “Willpower: How It Works and How to Train Your Brain”.

Positive Psychlogy. “What Is Willpower? The Psychology Behind Self-Control”.

PubMed. “The amygdala and decision-making”.

National Library of Medicine. “Exercising Your Brain: A Review of Human Brain Plasticity and Training-Induced Learning”.

National Library of Medicine. “Mnemonic Training Reshapes Brain Networks to Support Superior Memory”.

National Library of Medicine. “Enhanced Learning through Multimodal Training: Evidence from a Comprehensive Cognitive, Physical Fitness, and Neuroscience Intervention”.

Frontiers. “Cognitive control in the self-regulation of physical activity and sedentary behavior”.



Ayda Page

Check my website for lots more articles as well as my full story and bio :)