The Myth of Willpower

This post is tangentially related to my recent posts about the relationship between failing and change and roadblocks to change. Like most of you I've read a fair number of self help articles online and while there's often a core concept that has value it's generally presented without any real effort to show you how you might achieve it. One of the most common traps the articles fall into is believing that you can achieve things via willpower alone.

Willpower is Not Enough

There are a number of studies out that show people have a finite amount of willpower available to them at any one time. The more things they have to split that willpower amongst, the less effective it is for each individual thing.

This isn't a major problem for short term activities (which is probably what will power was intended to handle) but when you try to address major life changes and you have to apply that willpower for weeks or months. Failure is almost guaranteed.

So if Not Willpower, What?

The only way to succeed long term is to adjust your environment to meet your goals. Once again I find myself throwing around the word holistic. I need to use a thesaurus and find a replacement. Changing your environment is at least as difficult as any other sort of change, so again you need to do it gradually. One small change at a time.

When I say environment I'm talking about both the physical environment and the people you surround yourself with. A simple example would be that it's very hard to give up smoking when you are surrounded by people who keep offering you a cigarette. Another would be trying to go on a diet when there's 2lbs of chocolate in the house. It doesn't matter how strong your willpower is, you will fail. In the case of people ideally you have people who will not just hinder you, but will actively support you after you've told them what you're doing. They can be harder to find that you would think.

So How Do I Stack Up?

Well, taking the diet theme, because I've done that successfully before. I took the following environmental steps to help myself.

  • I didn't carry cash which eliminated the temptation of the vending machines
  • I brought a packed lunch every day which controlled my calorie intake at work very effectively.
  • At home I asked my wife not to buy certain things which dramatically reduced evening snacking.

On the people front things were a bit more mixed. My wife assisted with my requests, but she didn't understand (or I failed to explain) why I was so determined to lose weight. So while she in no way hindered things, she wasn't much of a motivator for this. Which I guess shows the importance of communicating clearly about why you do things.

Since I basically don't have any close real life friends, there were no bad influences to be had there, but also no support of course. What I should probably have done (but didn't) was reach out a little online and get some support from there.

About Eoghann Irving

Overly opinionated owner and author of eoghann.com. You can get updated on his posts directly on the blog here or through the usual social networking suspects. What? You expected me to say something interesting here? That's what the blog posts are for. Eoghann has often wondered if people read these little bio things we have to fill out everywhere on the internet and, assuming they do, why?

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