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What is the Difference between “Willpower” and “Self-Discipline”?

Updated: Apr 12, 2022

oh no she didn’t?

Yesterday, I was watching a couple of episodes of Joyce Meyer. These episodes were on 5 habits for a healthy spirit, soul and body. When Joyce began to talk about the body, she was just as frank as she could be. I mean, she did not beat around the bush at all. She said, “I am going to have to sit and have a motherly chat with yall. (She went and sat in her bar stool chair in the center of the stage). Are you ready? Alright, you guys need to start taking better care of yourself. “ The room of over 16,000 people went dead quiet. After a minute she began talking. “Let’s have a confession session. How many of you are not taking care of yourself as you should?” She glared at the audience. Then Joyce’s head dropped and she became quiet as slight giggles came over the audience. She hesitated a minute and then she shouted out “You have got to be kidding. Give me a cotton picking break. That was 90% of the room.” Then the sermon got serious.

On this day, at this moment, for whatever reason, Joyce got my attention. It is not that I didn’t care about my body and physical health, it is just that I seem to go around in circles. I start a new healthy eating plan every two weeks. This morning in my prayers, I started asking God why I was not more consistent. I had reconciled a long time ago that I had a problem with willpower. To this day, my mom will ask me, “Do you just not have any willpower?” in regards to losing weight. This always makes me sad and hurt. I feel defeated. Joyce talked about self-discipline, not willpower. To me, the word willpower has a negative connotation to it. Self-discipline has a positive, empowering connotation to it.

"Self-discipline is an act of cultivation. It requires you to connect today's actions to tomorrow's results." - Gary Ryan Blair

what’s the difference?

Because I am a coach and a motivational speaker, I began comparing the two words in an effort to come up with an attainable goal statement to get healthier, you know, one I could build a plan around. Thinking about the difference in the two words, I looked their definition up. Willpower is a noun that means “control of one’s impulses and actions; self-control”. Self-discipline is a noun that means “discipline and training of oneself, usually for improvement”. What was the difference? Then I went to Dr. Google. I came across an interesting discussion on led by Adam Bergen. After reviewing the discussion, I came up with the conclusion that willpower describes the ability to stay focused while self-discipline describes the action of consistently doing something productive. I remembered Tom Ziglar’s Choose to Win course; the one I am doing a keynote on later in August in Port Huron. Tom says to replace one bad habit with one good habit and do it over and over until it becomes a true habit. Well I can do that. I am getting excited now but still curious why it is so hard to just stay on a healthy plan.

instant gratification

Going deeper into research, I found that when I get high anxiety, my body slows down the transmission of serotonin. When I eat my chocolate or fast comfort food, my serotonin levels temporarily spike. I found this explanation when I Googled “How do brain chemicals affect anxiety and unhealthy eating?”. As I thought about all of this and why I have such a hard time getting healthier, I remembered a keynote of Zig Ziglar’s I listened to one night earlier this month. He spoke of not giving into instant gratification. He explained that anything worth having or achieving is done so with hard work, patience and focus. When you receive something for free, it doesn’t have the same status as when you have earned it through a tough process. Ziglar said, “The chief cause of failure and unhappiness is trading what you want most for what you want right now”.

As I think back to where I kept getting off track in my journey to getting healthier, I realized that it was when I either was too rushed to cook or prepare a healthy meal option or when I was frustrated or experiencing high anxiety and I ran toward my comfort food. I know I have to plan time on the weekend to make up healthy snacks and light meals to grab on my way out the door – tasty ones I really like. I have to “choose” to cook healthy dinners even when I don’t feel like it, knowing I will receive my rewards later down the road and not give into instant gratification. Will it be hard? You betcha it will.

"Without self-discipline, success is impossible, period." - Lou Holtz.

finding Your way

You decide on a goal. You do your homework and come up with a plan. When you have a solid plan or system in place and a perspective, that you want the process to be a tough learning journey so as to make you strong and appreciative, then you can go forward. Know that there will be slips, failures, adjustments and redos. Your plan may be one you purchased or you may have a coach that helped you develop a personalized plan. You may have designed a plan on your own. The point is to have a plan. In this plan, you need a procedure to follow when you slide off your plan or run into road blocks. Plan for road blocks. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it – right?

Many years my friend, many years....

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