I wish I knew how many times a client had professed their lack of willpower to me. How does the old saying go, “If I had a nickel…” Whether it be the gumption to get out and exercise or the ability to elude a chocolate cake, willpower has become the crutch that many of us lean against when faced with our failure to reach our health goals. But what is willpower and, more importantly, do we really lack it?
Let’s go back to my first statement: It’s true, I’ve heard many people explain to me that it was a “lack of willpower” that caused the inevitable downfall of their diet and exercise program. To some, this may be an opportunity to offer condolences on the failure and inject a rousing bout of positivity on the successes to come. To me, it is the opportunity to say, and I quote, “You know who else doesn’t have willpower? Drug addicts and serial killers. Is that the kind of company you keep?”
Now, I realize that this may be seen by many as an “insensitive” or “harsh” way to deal with someone’s admission of guilt, but, hey, I’m generally a harsh and insensitive person! And not because I choose to be, but because I’ve found that too many people live in candy-coated la-la-land where everything is always wonderful and no one has to be accountable for their actions. Well, guess what? That’s not the way the world works and it usually takes someone like me for people to understand that (which is why I refer to my “brutal honesty” as a “necessary evil”).
So, what is someone really saying when they claim to have a “lack of willpower.” Unfortunately, they are saying that they just haven’t put enough value in their goal to actually see it through to fruition. You see, willpower is merely the ability to control one’s actions. Therefore, having a lack of willpower would imply that you are NOT in control of your actions. And, while this may pass as a good excuse to some, I’m pretty sure that most of us are WELL in control of the things we do. So, the next time you are doubting your supply of willpower, think of another situation in your life where you exercised control over your decision making. Furthermore, think of WHY you chose the path that you did. If you are able to do that, then you should be able to see that the reason we do most things is because we put a value on the outcome that is greater than the cost of the effort. Take, for example, driving on I-35 at rush hour. Now everyone knows that Austin drivers are absolutely terrible, and that it’s a foregone conclusion that someone is going to cut you off and make you want to run their car off the road. So, when the giant pickup truck cuts you off and slams on it’s breaks, what stops you from purposely smashing into it? Answer: You value your freedom (and your safety)!
Now, I realize that the given example is a little far-fetched, but not as much as you might think. Even if you don’t know it at the time, we make choices like this all day long. We don’t tell our boss to “f$#% off” and quit because we value our paycheck and all the things it buys us. We don’t drink three bottles of wine on a Tuesday night because we value feeling alert and intelligent on Wednesday. ANNNDDDD, we go to the gym and eat healthy because we value our health and our sexy abs! So, the next time you are thinking of having a “lack of willpower,” think first about what you value the most. Then, if the answer is that you value that piece of chocolate cake over that teenie-weenie-bikini, enjoy away! But make sure you own it!