“Lose Weight Without Willpower!”
“Willpower Can’t Help You Change! This Can.”
“Quit Smoking! No Willpower Needed!”
You may have seen ads like this, trumpeting methods of changing a habit that require absolutely no willpower whatsoever. But can you really change a bad habit (or create a good one) without willpower?
To answer this question, we first have to ask, “What is willpower?” Most people, sadly, think of it only as the ability to clench their teeth and resist attractive temptations. In this view, willpower means self-denial, a Spartan lifestyle, and no fun. No wonder people hope to make changes without it.
I define willpower as “using only the thought of your motivators to control your actions.” Let's say your motivators are "prevent diabetes" and "reach a healthy weight." So if you are at the all-you-can-eat buffet, you think about your motivator—avoid diabetes through weight loss—and you take small portions and avoid the dessert table. (Yes, this is hard. See more below.)
So, amazingly enough, willpower begins with a thought—a bright idea—some way to improve your life or contribute to others. This bright idea is your motivator. Dr. Walter Mischel, an expert on willpower skills, uses the evocative term, “a burning goal.” Whether you call it a motivator, a burning goal, or a bright idea, this idea is the force behind your willpower.
Your Bright Idea
What sort of bright ideas—motivators--make for effective willpower? Any goal that you value strongly. In my book, Changepower, I discuss 8 great motivators, including: good health; self-respect; a better future for your family; and being a role model for your child—as well as not-so-noble motivators like vanity that can also drive a positive change. Your motivator may possess elements of emotion, values, and even passion:
Change Without Willpower?
So, can you change a habit without any willpower at all? No. Unless you are locked up somewhere and forced to make a change, you must have a bright idea to power your change. Remembering what matters most to you—your motivator—will activate your willpower. But is it wise to rely only on willpower to make a change? Not at all.
Even people with strong willpower find that self-control will fail them in certain situations. All of us can fall prey to one of the enemies of willpower, notably:
Supplements for "Vitamin W"
Since everyone’s willpower is depleted in these situations, we all need back-ups. Here are 9 supplements to fortify your own willpower. Some focus on strengthening your mind; others help you modify your world so you don't need to use as much willpower. (I’ll bet the ninth is news to you; it was to me.)
Finally—and most surprisingly:
Even though you can’t change a habit without some willpower, you can use these 9 strategies to bypass temptations and re-charge your batteries. How do you increase or back up your willpower so that you can make your own bright idea a reality?
© Meg Selig, 2014
I recently realized that I am celebrating the 5th anniversary month of my book about willpower: Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success (Routledge, 2009). Help me celebrate by taking a look here or here. Buy and benefit! To help others, order a copy for your library. I invite you to follow me on Facebook or Twitter.