The willpower myth

07.14.16 |

Willpower is a common theme in the health & wellness industry. Motivational posters with sweaty fitness buffs talk about how badly you need to want to be healthy. They talk about getting angry and pushing harder to reach your goals. And on and on the rhetoric continues. The argument goes that if you just tap into some hidden reservoir of willpower you will suddenly have the tools you need to have the healthy lifestyle you’ve always wanted.

Building your health on willpower dooms your journey from the start.

Willpower exists, but we have very little of it, and what willpower we do have is often fragile. This is why emotional eating is a huge challenge for nearly every member of the first world. This is why the idea of making a New Year’s Resolution to hit the gym and lose some weight has become a universal joke. This is why the majority of people that attempt a diet gain back any weight they might have lost.

Emotional eating is a huge challenge for nearly every member of the first world.

Maintaining your journey toward Optimal Wellbeing is only sustainable when you take on small, manageable challenges. An old saying that slow and steady wins the race, and another old saying says that even the longest journeys begin with a single step.

There is a lot of truth there.

When we break big Habits of Health down into micro Habits of Health, suddenly they don’t seem so daunting, and we don’t have to dip into that limited pool of willpower.

Tips to transform without willpower

Here are some of examples of how you can continue your transformation without having to fall back on willpower:

  • 10,000 steps a day is a lot to someone who has been living a mostly sedentary lifestyle. Instead of thinking about suddenly getting 10,000 steps overnight, can you park your car 5 spaces farther away at work? Of course you can. Making that choice does not require some Herculean effort physically or mentally, and it still moves you forward.
  • Make healthy foods the convenient choice. The simple act of stocking your house with accessible healthy foods goes a long way. Fast food rose to power because of the power of convenience, but now thanks to meal replacements and even pre-packaged salad having a healthy meal does not have to mean slaving over the stove after a long workday.
  • Cutting back on caffeine can be a battle against a powerful addiction. Going cold turkey sounds good but is probably the hardest path to take. Can you drink one less cup of coffee a day? If not, how about half a cup less? Your caffeine habit wasn’t built in a day, so it’s okay if we dismantle it over a longer period as well as long as you are making a little bit of progress each day.

Willpower is still a useful tool in the Habits of Health arsenal. You might need it to overcome a particularly strong craving or have to force yourself to take a few deep breaths in a stressful moment. But even then, the Habits of Health System gives you tools to amplify and support your willpower so that it is not your sole refuge. The more we can avoid relying on willpower, the more useful it will be when the time comes. In the meantime, start thinking about micro Habits of Health and how you can use them to make your transformation lasting and sustainable.