There is a virtuous self-reinforcing cycle between willpower and self-efficacy. If you exert some willpower to accomplish something with personal value, you feel really good about it. Not just about the success itself, but also your ability to get it done using your own power. Your willpower. Your grit and sticktuitiveness. (That was one of my dad’s favorite words growing up). This second part leads to an increase in self-efficacy. The increase in self-efficacy makes you more confident that you can achieve other activities that require willpower. You have more confidence in yourself. Unlike feeling more skilled at the activity itself, the increase in self-efficacy is more generalizable to other activities that depend on willpower.
Having this self-efficacy makes you more likely to attempt activities that require willpower and more likely to succeed at them. Which then leads to more self-efficacy and more willpower and on it goes. Gretchen Rubin over at the Happiness Project has some good thoughts on this.
So the message of the story is to try some small things that demand willpower today. And then watch it grow.