We can define willpower as a set of three interconnected powers: the ability not to do something that does not benefit us (but rather harms us), the ability to do what we need to do (even if a part of us does not want to do it), and, finally, the ability to remind us of what we really want.
These are the three powers that the author defines as the “I will”, “I won’t”, and the “I want” power; willpower is about using these three powers to achieve your goals.
Willpower is what distinguishes us from other living beings. It has been proven that those who are able to exercise greater self-control over their thoughts, emotions, and actions are happier, healthier, get better results in work and study, manage stress better, and live longer. Therefore, if we want to improve our lives, strengthening our willpower is a great place to start.
There is a part of our brain that is responsible for self-control: the principal task of the prefrontal cortex, which is located behind the forehead and eyes, is that of getting us to do the harder thing. The prefrontal cortex is divided into three areas, each of which presides over one of the powers we saw earlier.
An area on the left is responsible for the “I will” power, and therefore helps us to complete tasks that may be boring and demanding, but important (when we would rather be doing something else).
The region on the right is the one that controls the “I won’t” power, and therefore holds us back from impulses and desires that would be harmful to us.
Finally, there is the central region, which deals with the “I want” power: it keeps track of our goals and desires and reminds us what we really want. The more the neurons in this area are activated, the more we are motivated to do something, because we contextualise it within the broader scheme of things.
Some neuroscientists are of the belief that we have one brain, but two minds - and this would explain why often a part of us seeks instant gratification, while a wiser part of us reminds us of our long-term desires. Practicing self-awareness can help us understand that these two competing minds can sabotage us and make it difficult for us to become the person we want to be.