Why Willpower Is Overrated: 5 Steps To Get What You Want

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If I only had more willpower…

I would finally finish that book that I have always wanted to write.

I would shed those last 10 lbs that continue to nag at me like that bowl of ice cream right before bed.

I would allow myself to slow down and really prioritize myself — maybe I would even stop making excuses of why I simply have no time to exercise. 

Yet, willpower —the right amount of willpower — never really seems to be available. And if you can seem to rummage up the willpower to take action, it quickly slips into the abyss after a few measly days. 

The definition of willpower according to dictionary.com is the “control of one’s impulses and actions; self-control.” As much as we need to have the will to push ourselves out of our comfort zones and into the unfamiliar to be able to start the process of changing habits, I don’t believe it starts there.

And, I don’t believe in willpower being the driving force to achieve what you want. I don’t really believe in willpower. 

I think that it is unfair to say that most of our bad habits are due to laziness or lack of willpower. On the surface it may appear like that. You either do something or you don’t and if you do, you have willpower and, if you don’t, well then you are lazy and uncommitted. Right?


Accomplishing anything new requires risk. And, most of us do not like risk and we sure don’t like stepping out of our comfort zones for too long in order to make real, sustainable, long-lasting change. This is precisely why the health industry is booming, people have unfathomable levels of gambling debt, credit cards get maxed out, and we can’t seem to get up early to drag ourselves out of bed for an early morning workout. 

For years, I was a self-proclaimed procrastinator — waiting until the last minute to get anything done. No matter how big or small, I waited and would then rush, stressing myself out feeling the grips of deadlines tightening around my throat. I would get angry at the project, anyone involved, time — yep, I actually would get angry with Universal time or lack there of. But, never ever ever did I get upset with myself. To me, if was who I was and what I did. 

I would try to dig deep and rummage up willpower to start projects early or leave the house on time. Anything to not wait until the last minute. At first, I had success, but in the long run I always failed and slipped right back into my procrastinating ways.  

That was all until I started to address that shadow part of my personality at it’s core. And I stopped giving myself a break. What I learned shook up my entire understanding of myself. I was a self-sabotager and procrastinating was one tool that I used to deconstruct and rip apart the life that I was trying to build. It was my safety net that soothed and kissed my fear of not being good enough, smart enough, resourceful enough. It gave me a place to blame if someone didn’t like my work or was frustrated with me or my actions. It was all excuses. 

Excuses that took me away from my deepest reasons of why I truly wanted something and why they were priorities to me. 

It Isn’t About Willpower, It’s About Acceptance

The concept of willpower is quite harsh. You push and push. You fight the good fight. You stir up all the triggers and feelings within you that will eventually make you get a little spazzy. And then when it is so uncomfortable that you can hardly bear it anymore, you release it and tuck it away, hoping and praying that you have the strength to wrestle with it again one day. 

But I have to tell you something…

Your strongest desire will always outweigh other desires. This is true for any kind of desire, positive or negative. If your desire to lose weight is not as strong as your desire for comfort in the evening after a long, stressful day, your desire for comfort will win every single time. And, if you use cookies as your tool to give you comfort instead of taking a bath or going for an evening walk, then the cookies will win every single time. 

Here are 5 crucial steps to get you off the no willpower blame game and move forward with long-term success:

1. Have Acceptance Of What Is.

Knowing where you stand and what your real, honest to goodness realities of a situation are the first must have step. If you are unaware of the reality of the situation, then gaining acceptance of that reality will continue to slip through your grip. This means looking with honesty at: 

  • Your actions and your patterns, those things you do over and over that typically cause you to throw willpower to the wind
  • Your pain points and how they affect you and those around you, those things that hold you back from moving forward (i.e., spending time with your spouse in the evening by sitting on the couch and enjoying a cookie together. Your time with him is valuable)
  • Your level of control in the situation, those areas of the specific situation that you have any level of control over.

After you get a grasp on these details, now it is time to accept what is and how you have been. No blame. No shame. None of them are good or bad. It just is.

Take away the guilt, take a deep breath, and know that you are ok. 

Let’s move to step two…

2. Knowing What You Want And Why.

This may sound like an obvious step, but I am often surprised when people tell me that they have no idea what they really want. You may think that you want to lose 10 lbs, but do you really want to lose 10 lbs or do you want to not feel so bloated and tired and feel super attractive in that little black dress that you have hanging in the back of your closet, waiting for that special dinner date so you can wow your spouse? 

Knowing what you specifically want is different than having an idea. And, knowing what you want is different than knowing what you think you should have. It gets easy to become lost in your life’s shoulds — many of us are one social comparison away from shaving our heads and hiding in our closet until we start to feel better about ourselves. 

What it truly comes down to is, not only knowing what you want, but also knowing WHY you want it. Do you want to lose those 10 lbs because you want to fit into that little black dress or do you want to feel sexy for your spouse and have your spouse’s eyes on you throughout the entire dinner? Or maybe you want to fit into that little black dress because it will mean that you will be one step closer to being healthy so you can be around for your kids as they grow older. Your big WHY is so important to keep you on track and connected to what you really want. 

3. Know What Is Stronger Than What You Want.

All great things come with a certain level of obstacles. And when your step 2 runs super deep into the caverns of your soul, your obstacles are going to be greater. But don’t let this scare you! Knowing what some of the common obstacles are can help you become better prepared.

As I mentioned above, your strongest desire will always outweigh other desires. Obstacles can be very enticing. If you had a long, stressful day and only have 15 minutes after dinner to get a walk in, your desire (obstacle) to sit on the couch and relax is inevitably going to be stronger than your walk written on our day’s to-do list. That walk is not going to happen. 

When these obstacles pop up, and they will, you need a game plan. Brainstorm as many obstacles as you can around your goal. With each obstacle, come up with at least one alternative plan that can keep you on track. Keep that game plan somewhere that you know you can refer to when the going gets tough. 

Not only does this reinforce that you do have control in the situation, but it also begins to rewire your brain and create new neural pathways that will make it easier to stay on track next time that the obstacle presents itself. 

4. Take One Small Action Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone.

Stepping out of our comfort zones can be super scary, but these steps can help to propel you to take massive action! Think back to a time that you took a chance or you did something that was a little scary. Sure, it was probably nerve-racking, but I bet it was also liberating or inspiring or motivating. And, I bet it inspired you to take action elsewhere, even if it was just for a moment. That is the beauty of getting out of your comfort zone. Sometimes the thrill can ignite our passions and push us forward!

We all have different levels of comfort, so this step will be very unique to you. It is really about taking a chance, continuing to rewrite your brain’s neural pathways, and creating different habits and different actions. This sets you up for a path of success in what willpower has failed with in the past. 

5. Reevaluate And Hone In.

Anything you want to grow in has to have a level of evaluation to see if you are growing, standing still, or falling behind. At the end of the day, sit down and reevaluate on how you did. Did you stick to the original plan or did you have to fall back on some obstacle alternative game plan? What worked? What didn’t work? Where did you succeed and where did you fail? 

Getting out of the willpower loop is all about being honest with yourself and reevaluating your efforts is no different. Take an honest look at the day or the week. Where can you celebrate? Where can you try something different? 

Getting out of living life on auto-pilot will help you to better understand yourself and your goals. What is even more of a gift is how it will put you in the driver’s seat of life and allow you to be more in control of your destiny than ever before!

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