The myth of willpower

Red_and_green_traffic_signalsYes, I said it and I meant it.
This requires…demands… an explanation, of course.

How often have you heard someone say, “Oh, if only I had Harry’s willpower” or “Mary has so much more willpower than I do”?
The reality of it is though, that what people call willpower. Even Harry and Mary themselves might use the term, but what they’re really describing is an understanding of two very important relationships.
What I’m referring to are the relationships between:
1. A behavior and a desired outcome and
2. That outcome and a benefit (or benefits).

Here’s an example – Larry is bummed that he can’t seem to get in the workouts he says he wants to do each week.
He most likely knows that working out will make him stronger (an outcome) but he isn’t clear what getting in those workouts will mean in his life.
Maybe he’s working out because he’s done so since college or because he believes it will keep him from getting flabby.
If he had a clear understanding of what he valued regarding physical ability he could very well see his ‘willpower’ spike.
Perhaps he could get through his work day without being exhausted, or be able to run around with his kids without feeling like his legs and lungs were on fire.
Only Larry knows what he values, what is a real priority for him, what will make a difference.

Another view of the same workout goal could be that Larry believes he’ll lose weight if he hits the gym 3 times a week.
In this case he might be very mistaken about that outcome!
If Larry’s not eating properly, he could be lifting massive weights yet not losing much weight at all, nor improving his body composition for that matter.
Simply put, if he’s ignoring his nutrition, his results will certainly not be what he had imagined.
Again, the frustration will fuel his wish for ‘willpower’.

So, if you’re struggling with what seems to be a lack of willpower, give some thought to what outcome you’re looking for as a result of the intended behavior. Remember too, if you’re struggling with goals that start with “I will not…” try to re-frame those to be positive rather than negative. What behavior would you do instead of that unwanted behavior? Goals get muddled when we associate an outcome with NOT doing something.

Once you’re clear on the outcome, be sure you understand the benefits as well. Some people start with the benefit, back into the requisite outcome, and then define the behavior that can deliver it.

Whichever approach you take, remember those connections and watch how you can fire up your ‘willpower’.

About zolfw

I am an avid trail runner and fitness enthusiast, an accomplished cook, a lover of cinema and literature (although I read everything from graphic novels to professional psychology tomes, neither extreme being literature in the strict sense) . I am a retired Health and Wellness Coach. I am a husband, father, grandfather, and uncle.
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