What are some things you’re relying on willpower to help you do or avoid today?

Willpower. It’s an interesting word and an even more interesting concept.

According to Merriam Webster, willpower is “the ability to control one’s own actions, emotions, or urges.” The Cambridge dictionary says it like this: “the ability to control your own thoughts and the way in which you behave” and uses the word “determination” as a synonym for willpower.

If that’s true, and we’re not saying it isn’t, then why do we need willpower for certain things and not others?

Why doesn’t it take willpower to eat that warm, moist piece of chocolate cake after dinner but loads of self-control to avoid it when dieting?

Why doesn’t it take willpower to go to the movies when I have work to do but tremendous self-restraint to avoid procrastinating on that project, assignment, or cleaning the garage?

Why doesn’t it take willpower to press the snooze button but superhuman determination to get out of bed when the alarm goes off in the first place?

Why does it take willpower to control certain actions, emotions, and urges, not others?

Although there are numerous books and seminars dedicated to answering that question, let’s keep it simple for this short post. Perhaps the answer is that it all boils down to desire.

We use willpower to do what we don’t want to, and because we don’t want to do it for whatever reason, it feels hard because there’s so much resistance. But doing something we feel like doing is easy because want to do it – it doesn’t take much willpower because there isn’t any resistance.

It’s easy to eat the chocolate cake, go to the movies, or hit the snooze button because that’s what we feel like doing!

Desire & Willpower

At the risk of oversimplifying this topic, maybe the trick is to recondition our daily desires to match our long-term desires and dreams instead of impulsively gratifying what we feel like doing right now. 

Maybe the secret is more about satisfying our true desires than gratifying short-term urges. If that’s the case, we can win the “struggle” by deciding what we really want for our life, relationships, emotional and mental well-being, and career. Then, in the heat of the moment, we stay true to the kind of person we’ve decided to become because becoming that person matters to us.

What will it take to become that kind of person? Many things, probably. But for sure, habits and character.

Willpower & Habits

Becoming a new person requires new habits.

According to Joe Dispenza, “A habit is a redundant set of automatic, unconscious thoughts, behaviors and emotions that’s acquired through repetition. A habit is when you’ve done something so many times that your body now knows how to do it better than your mind.”

Building a new habit requires various skills, more than we’ll focus on here. (By the way, here’s a great resource on the topic you might like to check out: James Clear’s book entitled Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones.)

We use willpower to build habits we’ve decided necessary to live the life we desire. And since we want “that” life, we, in turn, want “these” habits, making willpower easier to wield. But the starting point is vision, seeing, and imagining the kind of life you really want for yourself. 

Next, evaluate which habits empower or disempower you from living that life today in some small measure. 

Finally, decide that whatever habits don’t support your true dreams, goals, or desires need to go! And then you set to work on building new habits. But these aren’t just any old habits. No. They’re habits with a purpose – practices and rituals that empower you to live the life you truly desire.

Building New Habits

It takes willpower to build a new habit. Vision and willpower are two powers you wield to get yourself to take the action you need to take right now, today, not just today, but every day.

Consistency and repetition breed results.

 But here’s the good news, the first few times are the hardest. But it starts getting easier. And it’ll finally become so easy that you will do it without even thinking about it much. Does that mean that all your old desires are gone, that you won’t be tempted? Absolutely not! It just means that you want something more for yourself today than you wanted yesterday because your life matters more to you today than it did yesterday; you want your “future” self, and know that every habit and choice is another pixel in the creation of that picture.

Awareness Gives Courage

Just being aware of that process makes following through easier because you KNOW there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

You are certain that getting out of bed the second the alarm sounds will become your new habit. Going for a run or meditating in the morning will be your new ritual instead of oversleeping and rushing to work or barely getting the kids to school on time. Soon, you’ll be reaching for the apple instead of the apple fritter (most of the time) because you like what you see in the mirror!

Tools To Coach Your Willpower

Use simple tools to coach your willpower while building new habits. Here are three easy ones that work for a lot of people:

1. Make a to-do list before going to bed of the three critical actions you’ll take tomorrow to build and anchor your new habit. It could look something like 1. Get up when the alarm sounds! 2) Have scrambled eggs or oatmeal for breakfast. 3) Go for a walk during lunch. Then schedule them in your calendar – when will you get up, have breakfast, and go for that walk.

Even something as simple as laying out your running clothes the night before and keeping your sneakers by the door will make it a little easier to go out for that run. Or put the skillet on the stove before you go to bed or the oatmeal on the counter, so you see it.

2. Set reminders or alarms to prompt you to do those things throughout the day!

3. Tell a trusted friend what you’re trying to do, and invite them to ask you how you’re doing – and not take it easy on you. Invite them to hold you accountable because this is something you really want for your life.

Finding a friend to take this journey with is huge because the willpower and enthusiasm will fade; there’ll be days when you won’t feel like doing it. Having a friend who reminds you why you’re doing this is an excellent source of encouragement when you feel like quitting.

Remember why you’re doing what you’re doing (vision), and keep coaching your willpower to do the right thing until the new behavior becomes a habit. You’ll find that doing the “old” thing no longer feels “quite right” and that not doing the “right” thing feels uncomfortable. Before long, your new set of habits will begin unlocking your best life, making your future self a reality today.

Photo by Valentin Salja on Unsplash

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