Willpower: Can You Just Say No?

Kimmel & Associates e-Letter

An Electronic Mental Health Newsletter from Joel I. Kimmel, Ph.D., P.A. & Associates

Volume 7, Number 2

Unknown to many, February contains some very significant days. Did you know that our second month contains National Freedom Day, The Day the Music Died (when Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper died), Toothache Day, Umbrella Day, Make a Friend Day, Clean Out Your Computer Day, and Random Acts of Kindness Day? Well neither did we; more information about these days can be found by searching the Internet.

February is also the month when the holidays are over and the credit card bills have arrived. Winter will soon end and we look forward to Spring. We also face the reality of whether we kept our New Year’s resolutions and why not and whether we have truly improved ourselves.

In this February E-Letter, we present information about Willpower and Self-Control, our Ask the Doc question relates to treatment of Eating Disorders, and our email of the month is about getting along with others. We hope you find the enclosed information helpful. As always, we appreciate your questions and feedback.

Practice News

Ongoing Group Therapy. Dr. Jim Kaikobad currently runs a support group designed specifically for teachers. A similar group is forming for those who also find great frustration in their jobs. If you are interested in more information, please call the office at 954 755-2885 and ask for Dr. Kaikobad.

Qualified Supervisor. Dr. Joel Kimmel has been certified by the State of Florida to supervise mental health counselors seeking supervision to meet the licensing requirements. If you or anyone you know needs a qualified supervisor to meet these requirements, contact Dr. Kimmel for further information.

Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course. We have been certified by the Department of Children and Families, State of Florida, to offer the Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course. Sometimes referred to as the Divorce Class, this 4 hour class is state mandated for divorcing parents of involved children. This course is intended to teach parents about the effects divorce has on children, to lessen the impact of difficult transitions, and to improve the ways they communicate with each other and their children. Our course is provided live and in small groups. Please contact our office at 954 755-2885 for further information.

Low Cost Counseling: Denise Champagne, M.S., is offering low cost counseling as a mental health intern. She is currently seeing patients and is available to take on new patients. This allows those individuals who cannot afford treatment to obtain it and allows her to get the required training. If you or someone you know is in need of counseling but just cannot afford it, please call the office and ask for Denise. All treatment provided by Denise will be reviewed and supervised by Dr. Kimmel.

Handouts from previous e-Letters can be found on our website. We invite you to read and download them if desired.


Our E-Letter this month focuses on Willpower and Self Control. Over 40 years ago, Dr. Walter Mischel pioneered the study of self-control using the “marshmallow test.” In his classic study, children were presented with a plate of marshmallows. They were then told that the researcher had to leave the room for a few minutes. But before they left, the child was given a simple choice. If they waited until the researcher returned, they could have two marshmallows. If they could not wait, they could ring a bell and the researcher would come back immediately but the child would get only one marshmallow. Results showed that preschoolers with good self-control could wait for the researcher to return for the two marshmallows. When these children were revisited as adolescents, results showed that those with good self-control, that is, they waited for the two marshmallows when they were a preschooler, were more likely to score higher on the SAT and had a greater ability to handle stress, respond to reason, tolerate frustration, and concentrate better.

In an APA survey, 93% of people surveyed reported that they had made a New Year’s Resolution to change some aspect of their life in the new year. And they consistently reported that it was a lack of willpower that caused them to fall short of their goals of losing weight, saving money, exercising, or making other lifestyle changes.

So what exactly is willpower? Other names commonly used to describe willpower include drive, determination, self-control, and self-discipline. Willpower has been defined as the ability to say “no” that is, the ability to delay gratification, by resisting temptations in order to meet long term goals. It means the ability to regulate oneself by not giving in to impulses or feelings. It can be learned and can also be depleted.

Willpower is the use of the “cool” thoughtful system to override the “hot” emotional moods and impulses. And willpower or self-control has been shown to be highly correlated with better grades, higher self-esteem, lower rates of substance abuse, greater financial security, and improved mental and physical health. Like a muscle, willpower can be exercised and depleted. It can be exhausted by resisting several temptations at the same time or by being used frequently to resist temptations over time. Often it is not moods but willpower depletion that leads to emotional eating and impulsive behaviors.

So how does one strengthen self-control? Researchers suggest that willpower can be increased by exercising self-control regularly. Some techniques include:

  • Focus on one goal at one time rather than several
  • Monitor your behavior towards that goal
  • Get support from others
  • Recognize when your willpower is being depleted
  • Don’t try to do too much at one time
  • Avoid temptations
  • Organize and establish good routines that become automatic
  • Create an effective to-do list
  • Actively use your willpower by committing to something and doing it

Yes, it is difficult to maintain willpower in our immediate gratification society where one can easily give in to impulses to shop, gamble, and spend a lot of time playing games. But  having self-control will bring you inner peace and happiness. You will not allow yourself to be effected by external events or temptations which is vital to self-improvement and achieving success. You will have that ability to say “no” and keep the promises and resolutions made to yourself.

We offer the following information on Willpower: Can You Just Say No?:

Strength does not come from physical capacity.
It comes from an indomitable will.
Mahatma Gandhi

What to Know!

  • The most frequently reported New Year’s resolutions for 2012 were improving health or financial status; lack of willpower was the top reason for failing to achieve goals
  • Willpower has been defined as the ability to resist short-term temptations to meet long-term goals, the ability to delay gratification, the ability to override an unwanted thought or impulse, and the regulation of the self by the self
  • It has also been defined as the ability to overcome laziness and procrastination and is one of the main ingredients of success
  • Willpower has been theorized as a “cool” cognitive system where thoughts and knowledge have control over the “hot” emotional system consisting of emotions and impulses that respond to triggers that have no thought of consequences
  • In a 2011 survey by the APA about stress, 27% of people responding said that lack of willpower was the most significant obstacle to change
  • Studies have shown that students with high self-discipline have higher grades, better school attendance, and are more likely to be admitted to competitive programs
  • And higher self-discipline was more important than IQ in predicting success in school
  • Developing good self control as children tends to prevent substance abuse and other problems in teenagers and adults
  • Trying to accomplish too many things at one time can lead to willpower depletion; it is better to focus on achieving a single goal at a time
  • Some researchers believe that willpower can be depleted due to constant and frequent decisions to resist impulses leading to feelings of exhaustion
  • Willpower depletion has become quite frequent in today’s online society where one can easily give in to impulses to shop, gamble, and spend a lot of time playing games
  • Willpower depletion and not bad moods is the cause of emotional eating
  • One of the most effective techniques to strengthen willpower is to avoid temptation
  • Another technique is “implementation intention” where one has a pre-thought out plan of what to do when faced with temptation
  • Combining regular use of willpower with physical exercise leads to stronger willpower
  • Doing the things one usually does not like to do develops inner strength which overcomes inner resistance
  • Maintaining blood-sugar level in the brain by eating regularly or several small meals a day helps to restore depleted willpower levels

What to Do!

  • To strengthen will power, focus on one goal at a time, monitor your behavior toward your goal, and seek support from others whom you trust and will help you succeed
  • Build up self control by exercising it regularly by saying no to temptations
  • Recognize the signs that your willpower is waning; don’t try to do too much at one time
  • Don’t crash diet but establish good habits and routines
  • Organize and create effective to do lists
  • Seek professional help if you are unable to maintain or increase your willpower

We Can Help!

Call us at (954) 755-2885 or email us at drkimmel@kimmelpsychology.com

Joel I. Kimmel, Ph.D., P.A. and Associates
5571 N. University Drive, Suite 101
Coral Springs, Florida 33067

As always, we would like to welcome new readers to our e-Letter. We hope that you find it informational and enjoyable. We invite you to share this e-Letter with others. If you have received this from a fellow reader, please send us your email address to include you on our list.

Ask the Doc

SD writes: My 23 year old niece has been diagnosed with bulimia and my sister put her into a residential treatment center. All I know is that she has to stay there at least 30 days. What kind of treatment will she get there and what will happen once she is discharged?

Dr. Jeff Lee, a therapist in Coral Springs, Florida who specializes in eating disorders, was asked this question. Dr. Lee replied: while all residential treatment centers are not the same, most do offer a similar level of structure to the eating disordered individual’s life. The philosophical approaches to them vary greatly. Some are based on an empowerment model and others adhere more to an addiction model. Either way, the days tend to be highly structured and most involve some form of a level system.  It has been found that this high level of structure in their recovery process is a key to their success.

The typical residential treatment day includes: structured meal times with staff, medication management, intense group therapies (often 5 or 6 groups daily), individual therapy, family therapy, and nutritional counseling. In addition, other treatments that may be included in their stay are: 12 Step Meetings, Exercise Therapy, Art Therapy, Movement Therapy and Psychodrama Group.

It is usually the case that there is some form of a level system to the residential program.  As the patient works through the “therapeutic process,” she moves up the through the levels and is able to gain autonomy in her program. In the beginning stages, she may have to eat meals with staff members and be supervised by them afterwards. When she moves through the levels, she gains independence with her eating and is able to have meals in a less structured and more independent manner.

Upon discharge, your niece can expect to continue in therapy. She may be encouraged to attend a “step down” level of care like “day treatment” or an “intensive outpatient program.” A comprehensive outpatient treatment team is generally indicated upon discharge. She will be encouraged to remain in individual outpatient therapy one to two times weekly. She will also be seen regularly by a psychiatrist, dietitian and family therapist. This aftercare plan is a critical part of the course of treatment for the eating disordered patient. Her transition back into her life should be attended to with great care.

Dr. Jeffrey H. Lee, EdD, LMFT, provides Individual, Couples & Family Counseling and can be reached at (954) 255-8050.

Email of the Month

We would like to thank Leanne W. for sending us the following email:

Fable of the Porcupine

It was the coldest winter ever – many animals died because of the cold. The porcupines, realizing the situation, decided to group together.  This way they covered and protected themselves.

But even though they gave off heat to each other, the quills of each one wounded their closest companions. After a while they decided to distance themselves one from the other and they began to die, alone and frozen.

So they had to make a choice: either accept the quills of their companions or disappear from Earth. Wisely they decided to go back to being together. This way they learned to live with the little wounds that were caused by the close relationships with their companions.

But the most important part of it was the heat that came from the others.  This way they were able to survive.

Moral of the story: The best relationship is not the one that brings together perfect people, but the best is when each individual learns to live with the imperfections of others and can appreciate the other person’s good qualities.

Please continue to send us your comments, questions, and favorite emails for our e-Letter.

Till March…

The information provided in this electronic newsletter is not a substitute for professional treatment. It is the opinions of the writers and is provided solely for educational purposes. For mental health care, seek a qualified professional.

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Copyright © 2014 by Joel I. Kimmel, Ph.D., P.A. and Associates.