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What's Stronger Than Willpower?

The secret to reaching your most important goals

Willpower is an important part of reaching your goals, especially those aspirations that require short bursts of self-control. Do get out of bed at the sound of the alarm, don’t eat the leftover pizza, and do put on the running shoes. Successfully employing willpower can move you closer to important goals, moment-by-moment and day-by-day.

Many valued goals, however, require something even greater than the ability to exercise self-discipline. Long-term goals—like getting through the first few years of an entrepreneurial venture, creating a lasting marriage, or finishing your breakout novel—require a deep and pervasive internal drive. In short, they require commitment.

Commitment isn’t something we often think about. While many of us freely acknowledge our need for more willpower, few of us consider how we might benefit from greater commitment. Perhaps our fast-paced society plays a role. Many of us have been programmed to think of our goals in short units of time. We just want to figure out how to complete this report by 5 o’clock, be patient when our kids won’t go to bed, and exercise sometime this week. But the very things we hope to will ourselves to do become far easier if we recognize they are part of a larger commitment.

While willpower refers to practicing self-control in the moment, commitment consists of being psychologically attached to your goal and intending to stay with it over the long haul. When you are truly committed, you stick with your goal even when you fail and have to go back to “square one.”

Willpower and commitment work together. Let’s say your long-term goal is finishing school with at least a 3.5 GPA. Willpower gets you to study an extra hour on the night before the exam, while commitment gives you the larger picture of how having a degree, and the knowledge and skill that come with it, will significantly better your life. Perhaps your goal is a long-term, loving relationship. Willpower stops you from blurting out something hurtful in a moment of frustration, while commitment takes you to your 20th wedding anniversary. Perhaps your goal is health and fitness for life. Willpower gets you to the gym during the first week or month, while commitment allows you to sustain your effort to make exercise an integrated part of your life.

Take a moment to consider your most important goals. What do you really want to achieve in your life? How might willpower help you today? And how might commitment sustain you in your ongoing efforts to succeed? Commitment is powerful tool when properly understood, and you get to decide when and where to employ it.

Heidi Reeder, Ph.D. is the author of COMMIT TO WIN (Hudson Street Press/Penguin), available now at, and wherever books are sold on May 15, 2014.

She can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and at

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