Willpower is a broken approach to your growth & well-being

Whether you want to experience more meaning, get healthier, stop using social media (so much), improve your relationships, be happier or start a business — willpower won’t help you with any of these things.

Changing your life and achieving (personal) growth is best approached like you’re overcoming an addiction. Because, quite literally, that’s what you’re doing. As human beings, we all have addictions hidden in our behaviors, (emotional) thinking and the stories we tell ourselves.

Think of how many times a day you check your social media? How often you think of situations from the past that make you feel bad? How often you tell yourself you’re not ready to start …? How often you fool yourself by telling a (tiny) lie to make you look more interesting?

My point is, if you’re serious about breaking (toxic) patterns and starting a new chapter of your life, willpower won’t be enough. Quite the opposite. Willpower is what’s holding you back.

“Willpower is for people who are still uncertain about what they want to do.” — Helia

If you’re required to exert willpower to do something, there is an obvious internal conflict. You probably lack a sense of self-awareness (sorry to say that!) and haven’t really defined (yet) what you want in life. Chances are, you want it all and lack the required focus, mindset, and circumstances to actually achieve your goals.

You want a stable income, but you also want to become a start-up entrepreneur. You don’t want to miss out on the Friday after work drinks, but you also want to start exercising and feel more energized. Environment versus goal.

So, what are you going to do? Are you going to be strong and resist? Of course, you are, but will you be able to consistently choose what you want (to become)? Why I am asking is because willpower works like a muscle. The thing with muscles is, they get exhausted and need rest to recover.

Same goes for will-power, once it’s exhausted your autopilot mode will be switched on again, with zero control to stop you from living your well-conditioned patterns. 

The very fact that willpower is required comes from three more fundamental sources:

  1. You lack self-awareness and direction and are thus internally conflicted.
  2. Your internal dialog (the voice in your head) is stopping you from leaving the comfort zone.
  3. You haven’t really committed to something, neither have you created well-formed conditions that facilitate your commitment.

What do you want? 

And, do you really want it?

What do you really want? Are you serious about this? Or are you just talking? Are you still on the fence, or have you decided? Anyway, until you decide, you’ll be required to use willpower, and you’ll continue to consider those 101 other options, you’ll keep running round in circles and end up making zero to minimal progress.

To be able to move forward on a consistent level a decision is required, once you make it, things become clear and you’ll create space to focus your energy and attention on your goal. Meaning, all future decisions regarding that matter have also been made. No questions, no overthinking. That’s when things start moving forward (quite quickly).

What story are you telling yourself?

Is it holding you back by any chance?

What are you telling yourself, I’m ready to make a change, I’m worthy of living the life I want, I’ve all the resources to start today? Or, are you limiting yourself with beliefs like, I’m not talented enough, others are lucky and I’m not, and so on.

Anything you say to yourself to justify why it isn’t working out for you is a limiting belief.

These limiting beliefs have shaped everything you do (so far) and are hiding out in the areas where you’re producing results that you don’t want. They (may) hold you back from taking chances, keep you blind to opportunities on your path, or simply keep you stuck focusing on the negative aspect of your circumstances.

So, before you choose to commit and move forward, let’s first bring them out in the open. Once you’ve done that, willpower ain’t much needed and your chances of actually reaching your desired goal(s) will increase dramatically.

So how to identify those pesky devils? First, what do you say to yourself about that area? For example, if you find yourself in a shitty and demotivating work environment, maybe it’s not so much about them or the company, but you tell yourself that ‘I don’t stand a chance in today’s job market, it’s overcrowded and companies only recruit people with more experience than I’.

Will that belief sounds true to you? Of course! It will sound perfectly reasonable and valid and you probably can come up with lots of evidence supporting it (works visa versa btw!). But it’s still a belief that is getting in the way of what you want. So unless you’re willing to totally give up on your goals and desires, it’s a limiting decision that you don’t want to keep around.

In my (NLP based) coaching courses I apply specific processes to help my clients dismantle and transform their beliefs. I can’t teach them fully in this article, but here are some steps to get you started:

  1. Play detective and follow your thoughts and emotions to discover the limiting beliefs that hold you back. Write them down.
  2. Acknowledge that these are beliefs, not truths, nor you as a human being! Rather than identifying with and defending your beliefs, become aware that they are ‘just thoughts’ trying to keep you in the safe zone based on past experiences.  
  3. Know your trigger(s), notice when the pesky devils kick in.
  4. Try on a different (empowering) belief. Use your imagination and try on a belief that is aligned with what you want. It might be something like, “Now that I’ve been in a demotivating work environment I’ve learned what to look for when looking for a new job!”

The trick is to go beyond just saying it. You want to really step into this new belief and feel how it feels. Done thoroughly, Steps 2 to 4 will go a long way to dismantling your old limiting decision.

Transform your promise into a commitment 

Now that you know how to change your state into courage and empowerment, it’s time to truly commit to your promise. Through commitment, you eliminate all doubt and disbelief. You pass the point of no return. You’re going to put everything in place to make sure it happens. No luck, no coincidence.

When you’ve decided to commit it’s best to design a structured game plan, defining what you truly want, building your support system and chunking your goal down into achievable steps. Commitment comes down to building an external defence system around your goal(s). Below I’ve listed a few steps to get you started:

    • Set a specific goal (within your reach) 
    • Invest upfront (research, planning, training, developing, etc)
    • Make it public / create a support network
    • Set achievable milestones (and rewards!)
    • Create a timeline, including milestones, day-2-day planning, routines, etc. 
    • Install several forms of feedback/accountability (partner, mentor, buddy system)
    • Remove or alter everything in your environment that opposes your goal.
    • Chunk your goal down to the very first step that is needed to achieve it. Do it now!

Create conditions that make success inevitable

Your environment, including the people you surround yourself with, is the clearest indicator of who you are and who you’re becoming. No matter how (mentally) strong you are, you will fail to change your life if you don’t change your environment. This is where the willpower approach fails. The willpower approach doesn’t focus on changing the environment but instead on increasing personal efforts to overcome the current environment.

What ends up happening? Eventually, you give in to your environment despite your greatest efforts to resist. Your environment is more powerful than your internal resolve. As a human being, you always take on the form of the environments in which you continually place yourself. Consequently, the best use of your choices is consciously designing environments that facilitate your commitments. Actually, if you’re really committed to something, this is exactly what you’ll do. Eliminate what doesn’t serve you!

One of the most straightforward examples is; if you’re trying to stop drinking alcohol, you must stop being 1) around people who drink alcohol, and 2) at places that serve alcohol. Your willpower will fail if you don’t. You need to truly decide you’re done, to commit, and then to create an environment to make the success of your commitment inevitable.

“You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with” — Jim Rohn.

This is how evolution works. We adapt to our environments. Thus, conscious evolution involves purposefully choosing or creating environments that mold us into the person we want to become. Everything in life is a natural and organic process. We adapt and evolve based on the environment and the people we choose. You are who you are because of your environment. Want to change? Then change your environment. Stop the willpower madness.

Conclusion

Willpower is worthless. Forget about it. If you’re required to use willpower:

    • You haven’t done your homework (self-awareness).
    • Your desire for your goal(s) isn’t strong and clear enough (your “why”).
    • Your limiting beliefs are holding you back.
    • You haven’t fully committed to what you’re going to do.
  • You haven’t created an environment that makes your goals inevitable.

Instead of focusing on doing more, slow down, become clear and specific on what you want, master your beliefs, commit to your goal and create an environment to make the success of your commitment inevitable.

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