a strong weightlifter with the word "willpower" on his back illustrating how to strengthen your willpower

Do you wish you were more strong-minded and tenacious? What are micro-sucks, and how can they help?

Building mental toughness and willpower requires dedicated effort, but the payoffs make it worthwhile. On the Huberman Lab podcast, Dr. Andrew Huberman explored research-backed techniques that help you wire your brain for grit by embracing productive discomfort (“micro-sucks”).

Read more to learn how to strengthen your willpower over time by leaning into small daily challenges.

How to Strengthen Your Willpower

Huberman’s advice for how to strengthen your willpower emphasizes the importance of targeted lifestyle adjustments. He explained that introducing new forms of challenging exercise outside of your normal routine bolsters your mental fortitude. You can build mental muscle by embracing activities that push you beyond your comfort zone and require overcoming resistance.

One study highlighted by Dr. Huberman demonstrated that people who followed a regular exercise program saw enhanced brain connectivity in regions tied to determination and grit—promoting a more “youthful” mindset.

Dr. Huberman advocated leaning into minor daily discomforts, which he calls “micro-sucks,” to grow your mettle. These include taking on small, unwanted tasks that can reinforce your willpower. Facing less desirable chores when you’re least motivated—and purposefully exercising self-control in those moments—is critical for developing tenacity. By thoughtfully choosing these intentional challenges to avoid harm, you can further hone your mental endurance.


Psychological resilience—our ability to cope and rebound from crises—has become a pressing topic amid growing mental health challenges. To grasp the idea of building resilience through lifestyle, we must first understand resilience itself and how it develops. At its core, resilience involves employing mental processes and behaviors to shield ourselves from the harmful impacts of stress. It’s influenced by both inner strengths such as self-worth and optimism—as well as outer backups such as social support networks. Resilience-bolstering interventions such as cognitive behavioral approaches and mindfulness practices also help.

The main ideas around intentionally building mental toughness focus on fostering resilience through deliberate, challenging activities and healthy daily habits. This includes appreciating how adequate sleep, nutrition, exercise, and cognitive challenges all enable mental fortitude. Willpower is essential for controlling impulses, prioritizing long-view goals over quick fixes and making decisions that serve our future selves. The concept of “micro-sucks” also comes into play; this refers to taking on small daily difficulties or tasks we dislike, which can bolster our willpower.

In the future, advancements in illuminating how specific mechanisms build mental muscle through lifestyle and intentional discomfort might come. A bigger emphasis on holistic approaches that bridge physical and mental resilience might also emerge.

More Perspectives

When working to build resilience, the idea that tailored lifestyle choices alone cultivate mental grit might oversimplify things. While sleep, nutrition, and exercise buoy wellness, we can’t ignore that personal factors—genetics, upbringing, and circumstances—also substantially sway outcomes. What empowers one person might not suit another; a one-size-fits-all tactic likely misses the mark for actually fortifying mental muscle.

Also, embracing micro-sucks (activities beyond our comfort zone) can surely bolster mental strength. But, stepping too far outside familiar bounds or engaging in high-risk behaviors might instead trigger harm, stress, or anxiety. We must strike a balance between pushing the envelope and ensuring our well-being.

The notion that leaning into unwanted tasks and wielding self-control fuels tenacity also warrants care. Forcing ourselves into genuinely unappealing work or against our core values often backfires, sapping our motivation and fulfillment.

While seeking challenges can spark growth, so can rest and recovery. Relentlessly taxing our mental bandwidth without reflection or downtime invites exhaustion and burnout. 

All of this isn’t to say that Huberman necessarily neglected these considerations, but it’s important to see his comments in the bigger picture. In essence, effectively building resilience requires a nuanced approach accounting for individuality, judicious boundary-pushing, intrinsic motivations and balancing strain with rest. Incorporating these complexities allows a more complete view of how we can each cultivate mental fortitude.

The Science of Developing Mental Toughness in Health, Work, and Life

Cadets who were one standard deviation higher on the Grit Scale were 60% more likely to finish Beast Barracks than their peers. It was mental toughness—not talent, intelligence, or genetics—that predicted whether or not a cadet would succeed.

The Secret to Building Resilience – Harvard Business Review

Resilience has been shown to positively influence work satisfaction and engagement as well as overall well-being; it also can lower depression levels.

Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

Vulnerability is all too often engineered out of today’s work cultures, in a bid to make employees more efficient and less susceptible to emotions—but brave leaders who have the courage to allow vulnerability are essential to thriving work cultures. Dare to Lead breaks down the four courage-building skills that make up brave leadership, so that you can create an organization that takes risk, uncertainty, and failure in stride. You’ll learn how to lead your team in engaging with vulnerability, acting with integrity, having more productive and honest conversations, and moving on quickly from failure—skills that will allow your work culture to meet today’s ever-increasing innovative and creative demands.

The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt

The Happiness Hypothesis explores the nature of human happiness, blending the philosophical and theological wisdom of ancient thinkers with insights from the field of positive psychology. Our satisfaction is driven by how our mental filters interpret the events in our lives, with the human brain perpetually divided against itself in the struggle between the desires created by our emotions and the attempts of reason to control them. The key to happiness is to use reason to focus the mind away from desires that will only bring fleeting happiness, while giving in to those desires that will bring lasting fulfillment.

How to Strengthen Your Willpower by Embracing Micro-Sucks

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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