I see it all the time.
My friends have great big plans for their lives. I’m talking really glorious ideas: to lose weight, travel the world, start a business, start a family, quit smoking, quit shopping, or finally organize the garage.
However, despite their best intentions, they never quite reach their goals. Oh, they might make progress for a few days…maybe a week.
But sooner or later they’re back to square one, lamenting about how they wish they could achieve those big dreams.
At first, they might not understand why they keep failing, but after a little prodding, it becomes clear.
They tend to rely on a thing called “willpower.” And when willpower lets them down (as it always does), they’re left scratching their heads about what went wrong.
“I want to stick to a diet, but I don’t have the willpower.”
“I’d like to wake up at a decent hour, but I don’t have the willpower.”
“I know I don’t need to buy any more shoes (really, a hundred pairs is enough), but I don’t have the willpower.”
And you know what? They’re right!
They DON’T have the willpower to do those things…and maybe you don’t either.
Thankfully, willpower isn’t necessary to accomplish any of your goals.
What Is Willpower?
Willpower is that feeling inside you that gives you the strength to make a good choice in a tough situation.
Willpower helps you pass up that tray of brownies at a friend’s dinner party or reminds you to save a portion of your paycheck before you blow it on whatever shiny new object you found on Pinterest.
Why Doesn’t Willpower Work?
Here’s the thing—willpower is a LIMITED resource.
Unlike sarcasm or your uncanny ability to recite ‘90s TV theme songs (“In West Philadelphia, born and raised…”), your willpower will eventually go away.
If you spend all day pushing your willpower to the brink, sooner or later you’ll snap and run off and do whatever it is you’ve been avoiding.
And that’s when you’ll wake up one morning either (1) naked in bed next to your best friend’s boyfriend or (2) on the kitchen floor with cake in your hair and potato chip crumbs on your butt.
And then you’ll feel like crap because you ran out of willpower…again.
A Better Idea
Instead of relying on willpower and then feeling like a loser when you fail, I want you to focus your energy on something that is a bajillion times more powerful: planning.
Planning is stronger than willpower. Every time.
When you know you are going to face a difficult situation that will test your willpower (isn’t that, like, every day?), mentally press “pause” and come up with a plan.
Let’s say you need to stop shopping online when you’re bored. Your plan might include the following steps:
- Unsubscribe from all those store email lists
- Shut down your computer at a specific time every night (say 8:00 pm)
- Take up a hobby to keep your mind busy (try a new sport or photography)
- Set up more date nights or get-togethers with friends (but not for shopping!)
- Transfer $10 into your savings account whenever you get the urge to shop
- Have a friend come over and help you remix your clothes into new outfits without having to spend a dime
- Write down your savings goals (for example, to own a house), and tape it to your credit card
With a plan in place, you’ll know exactly what to do the next time you’re feeling the pressure to do that not-so-good thing.
Willpower can only get you so far, but planning will give you the tools and resources to support you when you need help.
How do you feel about willpower?
When has planning paid off for you in your life?
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