Why Willpower is Not the Best Way to Reach Your Goals (and What Is)

When we think of willpower, we think hard. We think, something must be hard to do and thus we need an immense amount of sheer willpower. Luckily for you, most goals in life really aren’t that hard. We just make them hard and misunderstand how to reach them. And with such a big burden of relying on willpower—or self control, you will be glad to know there is a much easier and more effective way to actually reach and sustain your goals.

What is Willpower?

Webster defines willpower as “the ability to control one's own actions, emotions, or urges.” This takes energy in the body to see, think, and then make a decision. Using willpower also suggests you are working against something; a struggle or temptation of some sort.

This temptation could come in many forms. Food is a common struggle for people. Another is being active—the struggle is getting off the sofa or out of the chair and moving. The temptation is to stay comfortable where you are.

For nearly any goal in life, there could be a struggle or temptation that is anchored in the habits you currently have that you would like to change. Willpower is attempting to make those changes in the moment, on the fly, relying on whatever energy you have available at the time.

How Willpower will Always Fail You When Trying to Reach Your Goals.

Research shows the body has a limited pool of resources when relying on sheer willpower to overcome any temptation or struggle. When using willpower you are relying on your energy flow and brain cognition at any given time to make a decision contrary to your current habitual reflex. Thus, your amount of willpower will ebb and flow. It will be low at times and high at others.

We’ve all been there—you are tired and a decision needs to be made. At that point you are reaching for what comes easiest and fastest—in your mind. A lot of times, it is long seeded auto responses (read: decisions you wouldn’t want to make today based on living your best life now) that kick into overdrive. It seems easier to pick the drive-thru. Easier to skip the workout. Easier to not finish a task. Easier to make no decision.

There are many factors that deplete the energy reservoir to make those tough decisions in the moment, ie: willpower. One of those is poor or lack of sleep. This study showed “a sleep-deprived individual who has expended the necessary resources for self-control is at an increased risk for succumbing to impulsive desires, poor attentional capacity, and compromised decision making.” All of this compromised from lack of or poor sleep quality.

More than 1/3 of Americans report to sleep less than the recommended hours per night. In addition to the quantity, quality is often overlooked and is a key component in your body being able to regenerate through the night.

For more on how to create a quality sleep routine, read this article here>

In addition to sleep, the normal activities of your day will begin to deplete your energy as the day goes on. This is why it is typically easier to make tough decisions, do flow work, study, learn and write all during the early morning hours when your energy is highest. This, of course, assumes, you have received quality sleep the night before. Even without, your energy reserves will continue to deplete as you take on more and more tasks through the day.

Willpower is directly attached to your energy. And, your energy is designed to wane over the course of a day. It is not a matter of if your willpower will falter, it is a matter of when.

The Key to Reaching Your Goals

When speaking of willpower what we really want is to change a habit. To change a way of thinking. To make different choices than we have been making. And, we now know willpower alone rises and falls through the day and from day to day. That is why most people fail at reaching their new goals.

What is often missed or discounted, is success starts way before willpower comes in to play. You will first need to know what it is you actually want—and why. And next determine the choices you need to make in order to reach that goal. Then you will make a plan for how you intend to make it happen. This is all part of planning for your life. With this plan, you can create a ritual that cues you up for success.

It’s all about the ritual or plan. The plan comes first, then the ritual. This process takes the decision fatigue out when presented with the situation you want to change. You are setting yourself up to make these new decisions or choices or actions in the course of habit.

You have to set yourself up for the success. Make it so easy to make the desired choices even when you are tired.

So, we see, if we rely solely on willpower, it will surely fail you.

With your plan in hand you can set your environment with intention as you schedule your routine that will ultimately lead you down the path to success of meeting any goal.

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