Why You Don’t Have Too Little Willpower but Likely Too Much

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Over the years, I have heard many people complain about an apparent lack of willpower they have. They want to go on a diet, but are not able to stick to it. They want to start working out, but end up paying a full year’s membership at the gym while having been there only once. Or they want to finally work hard on their own business and don’t manage to get anything done.

I believe that this alleged lack of willpower is nothing but an illusion. But it’s quite a tricky one. Because, yes, on the first glance it might actually look as if somebody who wants to commit to the entrepreneurial life, but who doesn’t wake up in the mornings and rarely gets anything done, lacks willpower. Or that an overweight person who commits to starting their work out and quiting it after the first or second time for good, has not sufficient willpower. But that is the big illusion. For quite the contrary is true.

Their willpower is often even very strong. And often much stronger than the one of those who manage to do what they commit to do. The only thing that is not set right, is their will. Because they mistake their goals for their will. We see it every year when we create that beautiful list of new year’s resolutions, that usually are forgotten on January, 2nd. The resolutions we note down, are desires, wishes, things that we would like to do, stop or get. But do they also represent our will? 

After all, what does a person who is overweight and commits to sports really want, when they decide to quit the new work-out programme? Right, they want to get back to their comfy lifestyle. The will of eating junk food and laying on the couch, watching TV is greater than the goal to work-out and lose weight. And what is the will of the entrepreneur who constantly sleeps in, instead of working on her inspiring new business? Obviously her will to sleep in the mornings and be lazy is greater than her goal of working hard. 

Just think about what heroine addicts will go through, to get to their drug. Many end up prostituting themselves just to get the money required for their drug. So what is their will? Sure, in some very depressed moments, they might state that they want to quit. And maybe sometimes, they even start a withdrawal and are clean for a couple of days. But what is their real will? In reality, their will to escape the world again, is stronger than their goal of staying clean, so they backslide. 

I believe that there is an underlying, subconscious justification for every behaviour that we exhibit. This is, what forms our habits. People who are addicted to drugs, usually see some sort of benefit in using the drug. Usually this is to unburden themselves from their emotions. No fear in social situations, for example. Or no worry about life itself. They consciously or subconsciously believe that they get a relief by using that drug. So even though they have withdrawn from the drug and consciously realised that it is bad for them, they still see some value in it. Else, there would be no way that they would backslide. 

Now, some would argue that the thing that attracts people to sleeping-in, being lazy, or abusing substances is not will. But what is it then? Is the expression, “but I want to be slim”, or “I want to run a successful business” really our will? Or is just a soft “want” that can be written down on one day, but is not manifested in us at a strength that won’t allow it to be ignored on the next day? Very much like a elusive thought.

I, for that matter, believe that a will is not only a “want” that comes and goes as it pleases, but the honest and sincere desire. And the lives of those who are unsuccessful, addicted, or overweight are the way they are because these people have a will for laziness, ignorance of emotions, fear of fear, and desire to indulgence. And this is truly meant in a neutral meaning of these words and not in a judgemental fashion. I am lazy and love to indulge myself, remember? 

 So if you have been one of the people who doubt the strength of their willpower, it is time to have a slightly closer look at what it really is you want. Because if you have in many cases failed at what you originally set out to do, your real will is very likely the thing your are doing at the moment.

You might want to lose weight, but your will is to eat junk food. Because you like the taste of it. You might want to work hard on your business, but your desire to sleep-in and have a lazy life without having to work, is your real will. 

In my opinion, there is a good indicator to test, whether something you say you want, is really your will. A good example to show this is the giving up of smoking. We all know a couple of smokers, who quit because their spouse wanted them to and while initially trying, they just weren’t able to stick to their plan. And we know smokers who honestly and deeply had enough of that and therefore stopped and never started again. I remember one incident when a friend of mine told me in a bar that he wanted to quit smoking and the pack of cigarettes, from which he was at that very moment smoking one cigarette, would be his last pack. As soon as this was empty, he would quit smoking for good. I confronted him by saying: “If you want to quit smoking anyways, there is no need for you to finish this pack – you can quit right now”. This question is the best question to determine whether somebody really wants to do the thing they claim they do. Because it’s logical. If it is really your will to start jogging, there is no logical reason, why you would talk about how you are going to start with it on Monday, next week, or the next year. You can just start. Nothing holds you back. And the same is true for everything else. No matter, if we want to quit smoking, start a business, stop doing this, or start doing that. If we’re not doing what we’re talking about, then it is not our real and honest will to do it, but merely something of which we know or think that we probably should be doing it. So we should become conscious about this fact and either change our will or realise that it is actually not our real will. 

My friend for that matter was serious. He thought about what I had just said and then replied: “Actually you are right!”. He didn’t finish the cigarette he was smoking, and gave the rest of his pack to someone else on the table. To my best knowledge, he hasn’t started again ever since.    

So if you have failed at everything and always thought your willpower is just not strong enough, your actual problem might be that your will power is too strong. And, as your desired outcome is not really the thing you think it is, your willpower does everything possible to make your real will happen.  

There is nothing wrong with having a strong will. So keep that. It’s good and will serve you well. Once you know that you need to work out what it really is that you want and you can get there, it will be your greatest supporter. But for now, you should know that you can be proud of your will power, as it has very likely done an outstanding job, doing everything in its powers to fulfill your subconscious will. You can be excited about how you can use this force to your advantage, once your will has really aligned with your goals. And of course we’ll find out about the principles and be able to use them. And the first one of them is self-control.