The Willpower Myth: Rethinking How We Approach Goals and Habits

If Beating Yourself Up Worked,

Your Life Would Be Perfect By Now. 

Now, please don't start beating yourself up about beating yourself up.

Please. It won't get you anywhere, I promise. 

When you are working toward a goal - whether it's starting something like eating more vegetables, or stopping something like wasting time on Facebook - you probably think you need WILLPOWER to do it.

And if you struggle, you tell yourself a story that it's because you inherently lack WILLPOWER and need more in order to succeed. 

Western society has a collective story that there is this "Bad" part of us that wants "bad" things, and that WILLPOWER is this "Good" part of us that will control the "Bad" part and eventually prevail. 

But WILLPOWER is a Total Asshole. 

And fortunately, there is plenty of research that tells us that letting this asshole run the show DOES NOT HELP US REACH GOALS over the long-run, and IT MAKES LIFE MISERABLE. (Tara Mohr's book Playing Big has a wonderful chapter on this subject!)

I am sure you have experience with this.

You set yourself up to meet a goal, you push and you beat yourself up for slipping off course, and maybe you get there, but it doesn't last because soon enough you've exhausted yourself, denied your tender human needs, and you just want some relief. 

The Willpower Myth sets up a relationship between two parts of yourself: An Inner Tyrant and an Inner Rebel. The Inner Tyrant wants perfection and the Inner Rebel wants relief. 

You are not a simple combination of these two warring parts.

There is a YOU that sees beyond it, the you that observes this pattern.

That YOU wants something more than perfection and control.

That YOU wants a life full of vitality, laughter, love, connection, openness, learning, compassion, and courage. 


When this part, the TRUE AUTHENTIC YOU, takes the lead in reaching your goals, you feel a sense of MAKING CHOICES, and are much more likely to succeed, have that success last, and feel pleasure in the process.

Here's how....

1) Define Your Goals Based on How They Serve a Life Worth Living

Instead of leading with control, lead with creativity. How does your goal contribute to creating a life that reflects your desires and values? Instead of 'Stop checking my phone so much...' you may reframe it as, 'Refrain from the urge to check my phone so I can look for beauty today.' This may sound cheesy or weak to the 'Willpower' Asshole, but let's get real. This is your life and you only have today, so it is incredibly powerful to make today be a day you love. 

2) Be Loving to the Tyrant and Rebel As They Show Up

When you start to choose where you put your attention and effort from this place of creating a vital life, your Tyrant and Rebel are going to be there the whole time. Remember that both parts are very scared. The Tyrant is trying to protect you from ridicule or shame and the Rebel is trying to protect you from the Tyrant's critical rule. You can be grateful to both of them for trying to protect you, and choose to get back on course to a day worth living. 

3) Write Down a Doable, Enjoyable Action Plan. One Day at a Time. 

Since your goals are in service of a life worth living, write down your plan to create a day that is characterized by the qualities you want to cultivate - Love, Beauty, Humor, etc. Instead of focusing on the struggle to push toward goals, create ways of making the day enjoyable and try to fit your goals into that joy. To make it doable, you need to build in acceptance of all the urges and thoughts that pull you off course and a gentle, compassion plan for getting back on track. 

4) Learn from Each Day. One Day at a Time. 

You cannot know what works and what doesn't until you try. Each of us is different, and being connected to yourself and the present moment allows you to do more of what is helpful and less of what is harmful. Reflecting at the end of each day on what went well and where you struggled gives you information about what you need in order to create a tomorrow worth living. 

This plan won't overhaul your life overnight. This plan accepts your humanity, your vulnerability, your fears, and your ache for a life that feels real.

This plan is rebellious. This plan operates from the assumption that you are trustworthy, capable, and inherently good.

Go ahead, rebel.

Inspire us. We need you. 

Registration is now open for the Fall 2015 Cohort of my Finding What You Didn't Lose coaching program, which provides a daily action plan and personalized support to help you reach your goals without relying on willpower. You can learn more about the program and how to join here.  

With love and optimism,