There are many ways people think of themselves when you mention the word "willpower" - either you have it or you don't. This is something that Kelly McGonigal proves to be untrue in her revelatory book, The Willpower Instinct. She maintains, through careful examination and presentation of current and past research, that willpower is like a muscle. It can be fatigued or strengthened. Not only that, you may have a reserve of willpower that is limited. Similar in fashion to how you may be unable (hypothetically) to walk more than 5 miles in one day. Everyone has a limit.
But the good news is is that limit is moveable. Yes, you can strengthen willpower. And she proves this to be true. She cites studies in Australia where people were given a free gym membership. Not only did their physical health improve when they changed this keystone habit, but all other bad habits seemed to decrease (people smoked less, drank less, ate less junk food) and they had other good habits increase such being conservative in their finances. Thus proving that a daily gym habit strengthens your willpower and has a reinforcing effect on the rest of the activities that require willpower.
I recognized this domino effect when I started practicing meditation. Known to increase qualities like compassion and mindfulness, meditation is also an activity that can strengthen your willpower. Essentially because it is an exercise in focusing the mind. This keystone habit bled into every area of my life. My bad habits started dropping like flies. I stopped sleeping late and arriving everywhere perpetually late and my good habits started flourishing. I took up an exercise regimen, I started praying again, I worked longer hours at work, I read more, I produced more artwork...you get the picture. Basically, if you start small with the right thing - a keystone habit like quitting smoking, going to talk therapy, exercising or yoga; you will find that positivity kind of grows like a fungus - it gets all over everything.
This book proves that the more you exercise willpower, the easier it becomes to do just that. In the same way that doing ten pushups makes it easier to do 12, then 14, then 16. But how does one exercise willpower? Kelly McGonigal identifies three basic tenets of willpower: saying "I will" to positive activities, saying "I won't" to negative activities, and saying "I want" to longer-term goals. The trick is to start small. Try saying "I will" to drinking one extra glass of water a day, "I won't" to an afternoon gossip fest, slowly shifting the focus of the conversation to more uplifting topics, and "I want" to longer-term goals such as physical and mental health and well-being. Small changes such as these suggestions might just take their toll after the weeks roll by. You may just find yourself turning down that offer for happy hour and hitting the gym instead...miracles do happen!