Why the term willpower should be avoided at all costs


“Willpower acts in a similar manner to a muscle: It can be depleted after mental exertion, it can be strengthened, and it can be fueled.”

In a 2016 article Dr. Vic Strecher talked about the dangers of misusing the concept of willpower.  When Strecher began his research there was a common belief that we were either born with willpower or we were not and there was nothing that could be done about it.  The dangers of this kind of thinking led him to avoid using the term willpower if at all possible.

Through his own research and the research of others he developed a different view of what we call willpower.  Instead of seeing it as a set character trait, he began to see it more as a muscle that could be depleted, strengthened and even fueled.  He mentions a famous Stanford study that illustrates the exhaustible nature of willpower:

Willpower-depleting mental exertion is also required when we’re trying to remember something. In a Stanford University study, students were given either a two- or seven-digit number. They were then instructed to walk down the hall to another room, where they’d be asked to recall the number. In the hallway they were offered a snack: either fruit or chocolate cake. Fifty-nine percent of the students trying to remember a two-digit number chose the fruit, while only 27 percent of the students trying to remember the seven-digit number chose the fruit. Remembering the longer number required more mental exertion, and by the time the cake showed up, their willpower was depleted.

Strecher goes on to explain that finding purpose in our lives can be the most powerful willpower fuel at our disposal. Next week Dr. Vic Strecher will be speaking about how we may go about finding our purpose at the 16th Annual McPhee Lecture and Workshop.

Learn How Finding Your Purpose in Life Leads to Better Health and Overall Happiness with Acclaimed Author & TED Lecturer Dr. Vic Strecher at October Lecture, W

After losing his daughter at age 19, Dr. Vic Strecher felt he had lost his purpose in life. In the wake of this loss he went on a journey that led him to a new purpose: to help others live the fullest life. Now the author, entrepreneur, professor and director for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan School of Public health does just that. This lecture and workshop will focus on how defining your purpose can create more resilience, health and vitality in your own life.

Life On Purpose: How Living for What Matters Most Changes Everything will be the topic of his lecture from 7-8:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 26, at Austin Presbyterian Seminary. Tickets are $50; $35 for students and nonprofits. What is a life worth living? Socrates said that an unexamined life isn’t worth living. Aristotle went further to say that a purposeless life isn’t even worth examining. Vic Strecher explores ways of creating greater life purpose and the daily energy and willpower to live for what matters most. Ancient philosophy meets the most modern science and technology as Dr. Strecher creates a new vision for health and well-being across the lifespan.

Giving Yourself S.P.A.C.E. for More Energy and Willpower will be the topic of his workshop from 8:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, at Austin Presbyterian Seminary. Registration is $300; $275 for students & nonprofits. Aristotle suggested that excellence isn’t an act, but a habit. Excellence in our modern era requires engagement with personal, family, work, and community purposes. And it isn’t easy. Full engagement in life requires vitality (energy) and self-control (willpower). Increasingly, these two concepts are viewed by researchers as muscles that can be strengthened, trained, depleted, and fueled.

In this workshop, participants will learn and practice specific strategies for improving their S.P.A.C.E. – sleep, presence, activity, creativity, and eating – five positive behaviors shown to improve energy and willpower.

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The McPhee Lecture and Workshop is sponsored by Seton Cove’s Institute for Soul-Centered Leadership. Seton Cove is a non-profit, interfaith spirituality center and a member of the Seton Healthcare Family.

The McPhee Lecture and Workshop was established in honor of Sr. Mary Rose McPhee, founder of Seton Cove. This annual series is an opportunity for leaders in business, health care, education and the community to reflect on spirituality and work.


Russ Moxley, Parker Palmer, Margaret Wheatley, Wayne Muller, Robert Wicks, Richard Rohr, Naomi Shihab Nye, Ronald Rolheiser, Mark Nepo, Otto Scharmer, Ilia Delio, Margaret Benefiel, Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Michael Carroll, Cindy Wigglesworth

About Seton Cove

Seton Cove, an interfaith spirituality center, was created in 1995 to be a place of hospitality and solace for people seeking to integrate spirituality more fully into their daily lives. Seton Cove is recognized as a leader in Austin for spiritual formation, creative learning, and holistic renewal.

The Cove believes that while not all people are religious, we are all spiritual. Our spirituality has to do with our deepest, truest center where our values are formed and held. Spirituality is not about believing certain doctrines or obeying rule; rather, it is about leading the authentic life in right relationship with the mystery we call God, oneself, one’s community, and the creation. Spirituality is about waking up and seeing all that one may be blind to. Spirituality is a process of becoming.

There is an increasing awareness within society of the healing role of spirituality for individuals and communities. As individuals experience a greater sense of wholeness, they bring renewed spiritual vitality to the whole community.

Vic Strecher’s TEDMED talk on connecting leadership, purpose and health