Why You Don’t Need More Willpower

To get better at following through, you need to upgrade your understanding of willpower.  

In a sense, willpower is like physical strength. In the same way that the weight of the heaviest rock you can lift is a measure of your physical strength, willpower is a measure of your ability to make yourself do something you intend to do but don’t feel like doing — or to keep yourself from doing something you intend not to do but do feel like doing.

And in the same way that how much you can accomplish with however much physical strength you have depends on how you apply that physical strength, how much you can accomplish with however much willpower you have depends on how you apply that willpower. Just like it doesn’t take much physical strength to lift a 5,000 weight by using the strength you have to push a button on a crane, it doesn’t take much willpower to stick to an intention if you apply your willpower in a smart enough way.    

How much willpower you have matters less than how you use it

The point is, no matter how little willpower you have, as long as you apply it in a smart enough way, you’ll have enough of it to follow through on just about any intention.

Please allow me to use a far-fetched example to illustrate what I mean. Suppose you don’t have enough willpower to keep yourself from eating your favorite snack food, which is on your Foods-I-Intend-Not-to-Eat list but is sitting right in front of you calling your name. Now suppose you let me sprinkle some odorless, tasteless, poisonous powder on your delicious snack. Would you now have enough willpower to resist the once-irresistible urge to gobble it up? You bet you would!  

OK, so now let’s get more realistic about how you could apply your willpower in a smart way. You could, for example, use the willpower you have to resist the temptation to buy the irresistible snack food item in the first place. Or if that fails, you could make yourself store it somewhere where you’re less likely to hear it calling your name and it’s much harder to get to. And if that fails, you could at least make a point of taking just a small portion of the snack, and immediately before eating any at all, putting the rest away.

Leveraging your willpower

Applying your willpower in smart ways like these allows you to leverage the willpower you have so you can accomplish much more than you can by using your willpower directly.

So, whenever you’re facing a follow through challenge and find yourself questioning whether you have enough willpower to meet it, think about how you could apply the willpower you have in the smartest possible way. If you’re willing to get as creative and bold as it takes to get the job done, you’ll almost always be able to come up with a way to use the willpower you have to create conditions that guarantee that you’ll follow through.     

To learn more about how to leverage your willpower, you can read about Willpower Leveraging  in the Follow Through Strategies course, which is available to enrollees in the Follow Through Master Program.