Will Power.  Making better decisions in the heat of the moment

At work, we are precisely as good as the sum total of the decisions we make.

Unfortunately most of these decisions are influenced if not driven by a whole raft of factors, which we are generally unaware of.  In this series of thought pieces I unveil a number of these influences and suggest how to make better choices in real time.


Will Power

We all want more will power. We want to be able to take better decisions, driven by our long-term plans rather than short-term desires and we want to be able to stick with new practices until they become habits.

The impact of more will power is obvious to us and yet what will power is and how it works is still quite a mystery.  Here is what we do know and what you can do to muster more will power in the moment and to build more will power over time.

Neuroscience, strongly indicates that will power is unlikely to be governed by a single area of the brain, but may be more closely connected to the brain “rich club”, a group of 12 key regions* that seem to “co-ordinate” activity of the brain as a whole. Allocation of blood sugars is clearly significant here, which is helpful to know, but beyond that, we need to turn to turn to psychological research to make any practical headway.

You’ve probably heard that Will Power is like a muscle.  The more you exercise it the stronger it becomes.  The analogy also implies that we’ve only got a certain store of Will Power at any given time and we can quickly use it up if we constantly draw on it.

There is little point trying to have fresh starts where we suddenly transform all areas of our life and become Superhuman.  Tackle one thing you want to change at a time and build up over time. Importantly, make a plan for how you will deal with the events which might derail you. Create vivid images to make sure you are fully aware of the long-term impact of your decisions.

For example: “If I break my “leave the office by 6.30pm” rule tonight, then the chances are that I will take the same decision pretty much every night.  Tonight’s decision is the difference between creating a habit of leaving at a sensible time and 200 nights a year of working late.

Also watch out for moral licensing, such as “Its 6.40pm, I’ve broken my rule, I might as well stay here ‘til midnight and get lots done”. You are justifying strengthening the status quo and making change less likely.


How to

  • Catch yourself in those moments of weakness when you feel you might be trying to justify short-term gain at the expense of long-term progress. (The “I’ve been good, I deserve a doughnut” moment!)
  • Think through what the real equation is, factoring in the knowledge that today’s action is probably tomorrow’s habit.
  • Start your change programme then and there on a random day. Don’t wait ‘til Monday or 1st Month.  And whilst we’re at it – don’t both with New Year’s Resolutions, they only make us feel bad when we break them!


Executive Coaching   

An Executive Coach works with high performers to explore the assumptions and drivers hidden beneath our thinking. This helps us make better decisions in the moment, improving performance and making work more rewarding in every way.


*Journal of Neuroscience 2 November 2011,  31 (44) 15775-15786; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3539-11.2011