My war with willpower: Can one be successful without it?

This New Year I’ve been somewhat indirectly trying to incorporate more self-discipline into my life. It started out with a desire to be healthier in my body and happier in my business. This turned into: a yoga practice every morning, meditation at night and working 9-5 on my business in between. 

It’s true that first week of the year, I felt quite invigorated with these new practices. Week 2, however, has been a completely different story. What had at first been a novel new practice turned into a disciplinary struggle to do what I think is supposed to make me successful in my goal (note: healthier in my body and happier in my business).

As a result of this supposed self-discipline, I began to engage in a battle with the idea that willpower will see me through.

Conventional definition of willpower: control exerted to do something or restrain impulses.



I’m what I’d call my clients, a classic “white knuckle rider”. Setting myself a task and trying so hard or holding on so tight that my knuckles go white. 

Just force yourself to do it is what I will, by default, often tell myself. 

What’s interesting is that the idea of forcing myself to do something IE willing-powering my self through, seems to lead me to be confronted with how I operate from survival instinct.  And my personal default survival tactic is to freeze. 

Now, how is that going to go for my goal? Naat so well.

Luckily, I read some incredibly fascinating articles recently on the myth of willpower.

Using scientific research, these articles were first and fore mostly trying to dispel the myth that willpower is a finite resource and prove that trying to manage yourself with brute force is unidimensional and bound to fail. However, more interesting, from my perspective at least, was the belief that willpower was far from being a muscle that tires but rather an emotion that could be created or even, depending on your perspective, (the need for it) circumvented altogether.

For if willpower is an emotion, the trained life coach in me reflected, that means it can be influenced by our thoughts, beliefs and mind-set. 

Now a conscientious shift in mind-set with regard to a goal or a re-framing of a problem is certainly an example of willpower but it would not fall into the customary understanding of the term. Rather than depending on the arduous fight against impulses, this kind of willpower has one completely re-imagine the problem and avoid the fight in the first place.


With regard to what I was struggling with, it became quite apparent that I had begun to force myself to work uncompromisingly between certain hours and have health practices either side of those hours from a mind-set of: "I should be doing this or rather 'I have to' in order to ensure my survival as a businesswoman and human being. If I don't, then I will fail."

Sounds quite radical I know, but that's the belief that was happening in my head on a somewhat subconscious level.

I was approaching my goal from an ego-based place which meant that it had become about a fight for survival when it had started out with the pure intention to be much happier.

No wonder I was having the physiological response that I did.

Purely by noticing this, I was able to step outside of that mind-set. Unsurprisingly, my frozen state of being began to flow again and I was back in action. My work felt less of a fight to keep doing it but more a love for why I was doing it in the first place. 

What I love about this research on willpower is that it showed me that I didn't have to change anything on an exterior level nor develop a supposed muscle in my brain labelled "willpower" but with a bit of awareness and shift in perspective, I was not only able to follow through with what I said I wanted to do more naturally but I was able to re-imagine what "willpower" really is at all.

It seemed to me that willpower (using the traditional definition of the term) was not an act of strength or courage but an unnecessary fight with my ego. The desire to will myself through was an addiction to an idea supported by disempowering beliefs that I'd taken on from society and those around me. Culturally, this 'fight against impulse' type willpower seems to often go hand in hand with a 'beat yourself up' mentality, namely for being lazy or a slacker. 

And this self-held battering stick coupled with a desire to force yourself forward is something I often see in my clients and those around me. Not only does it result in an unnecessary amount of stress and self-degradation but one will often give up on their endeavour all together when perhaps, all that was needed was a shift in thinking or re-imagining of what all this was about and for altogether.