Alex Wilson

Willpower is an important tool that you’ll employ multiple times during your career. (Let alone your life!) But when auditing the tools that are most important to your professional development, you’ll find something surprising: willpower isn’t in that particular box.

According to top psychologists, the science of willpower is based on the need for self-regulation. It allows you to resist temptation and override self-destructive urges, but it’s mainly what Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigal calls a “full-blown mind-body response.”

“The willpower response is a reaction to an internal conflict,” McGonigal said to Scope. “You want to do one thing, such as smoke a cigarette or supersize your lunch, but know you shouldn’t. Or you know you should do something, like file your taxes or go to the gym, but you’d rather do nothing.”

Recognizing these urges and actively processing them is referred to a “pause-and-plan response.” It puts your body into a calmer state and sends extra energy to the brain’s prefrontal cortex, allowing you to better track your goals and impulses. However, like previously said, it’s not the best tool for the workplace.

When it comes to skills you want for work, it’s important to for your strongest skills to be proactive ones. Instead of ones that negate negative behaviors or influences, your skills should promote positive professional development. Here are skills that are more important than willpower when it comes to finding success:

1. Grit

In her bestselling book, psychologist Angela Duckworth writes that having “grit” — a unique combination of passion and long-term perseverance — is the true key to success. Having grit is about more than just the will to achieve; it’s about developing lifelong interests and preparing for the long-term. If you don’t have the passion to continue to show up day after day for several years, you’ll find less success than you hope for.

2. Kindness

There’s a misconception that being kind translates to allowing people to walk all over you; that’s not true. Kindness is seen in smaller actions as opposed to larger ones: checking in on your stressed cubemate, taking the new girl under your wing, genuinely complimenting your boss, and so on.  Kindness in the workplace is underrated, but not only does it scientifically make you feel better, it also strengthens your professional reputation as a manager who cares.

3. Emotional Intelligence

When you make a major mistake on a long-term project, it can feel devastating. You feel like much of your hard work has been wasted, and having to go back to square one can seriously damper morale. That’s why honing your emotional intelligence is important; finding the mindset where you accept major changes and obstacles as they come, then learn how to get around them, is key to thriving at work. It also helps you navigate relationships within the workplace. Regardless of the kind of problem that arises, being emotionally intelligent will help you know what you need to do to keep moving forward (personally and professionally). 

4. Meditation

There are a lot of personal and scientific benefits to meditatinganxiety decreases, you can look at events from a more rational perspective, empathy increases, etc. — so what are you waiting for? If you’ve never tried meditation, don’t worry. Meditation practice takes as little as five minutes a day to show proven benefits, and there are several guided apps and videos to help you find your footing. Meditation will develop the strong mind you need to lessen the urges you’ll struggle with on a regular basis, and it opens your perspective in new and exciting ways.