Why Willpower Isn’t Enough

Willpower is powerful. Researchers find that someone with high willpower is twice as likely to be academically successful as someone with high intelligence. Kids with willpower go on to generally have not only more school and career success, but be healthier too. Best of all, it’s a teachable skill. But willpower is only the beginning. It’s how we use it that makes it magical. Willpower varies from day to day, according to our mood, energy, focus, and health status (for example, if we are tired or in pain). So we need to use our willpower wisely: to create and run systems that form habits. Habits don’t take willpower because they’re automatic, like brushing your teeth. Then, even when willpower is low, our habits run automatically, keeping us moving forward toward our dreams.

For example, instead of needing  your willpower over and over again to make yourself go to the gym, use it to create a system where you schedule it into your planner for the week, put gym clothes in your car the night before, and put a reminder alert on your phone to go off as you leave work. Once those things are habits, going to the gym happens automatically, no willpower required. Start training your willpower in little ways. If you’ve got an itch, see if you can wait an extra 30 seconds to address it. Train your habits the same way. If you want to learn an instrument, put it in the kitchen (if it’s small enough) and every morning at breakfast, play for 30 seconds. Then celebrate your willpower and action. Say to yourself, “That’s like me!”. Get some early wins for momentum, and build from there.

Good Luck!

¹ Optimize. Optimize Enterprises, optimize.me. Accessed 4 March 2020.

² Mischel, Walter. The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control. Little Brown Spark, 23 Sept 2014. 

³ Fogg, B.J. Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 31 Dec 2019. 

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