It’s not that some people have willpower and some don’t. It’s that some people are ready to change and others are not.
– James Gordon MD
“I wish I could give up smoking but I haven’t got the willpower”
“I wish I could lose a bit of weight by I haven’t got the willpower to diet”
“I wish I could get fitter but I haven’t got the willpower to keep going to the gym”
“I wish I could break my habit but I just haven’t got the willpower”
We can probably all come up with dozens of these sorts of comments, both from ourselves and from family, friends, colleagues and people we pass in the street. “I could change if only I had the willpower to do it”. Some of us should probably have that as our epitaph!
I know I’ve certainly used that excuse myself many times through life. I have been overweight for many years, even tried the gym for a little while, but soon fell into the habit of not going. I knew that I was eating too much bad food, but I didn’t seem to have the willpower to stop eating the chocolate and crisps at work, nor to give up drinking Coke (something I’d been drinking for about 30 years and was now up to 6 cans a day!). Oh, I would try cutting down on the snacks during the day at work, but that never lasted long, I just didn’t have the willpower (I aid to myself as an excuse).
Until I decided enough was enough and I was going to quit both my Coke and crisp habit. I used some fun and easy NLP techniques to break my habit of consuming them (I now can’t even stand the thought of consuming them!) and instantly stopped drinking Coke – literally instantly, never having touched a drop since. The weight started to drop a bit, and then the real magic happened – now that I had stopped drinking all that Coke and eating crisps and it was having a beneficial effect on my weight, my hitherto elusive willpower suddenly kicked in and I was able to cut out all the junk and snacks I used to heat, and without taking up any more exercise I have managed to lose an appreciable amount of weight and to keep it off.
So why did my willpower suddenly kick in where it had failed me so many times in the past?
The simple answer is that willpower doesn’t actually exist as such; it is an artificial concept we use to either beat ourselves up or to excuse ourselves when we don’t make a particular change.
What is required is not mythical willpower; instead, what is actually required is the deep down desire, willingness and readiness to change.
In my case, although superficially I would occasionally make noises about wanting to lose weight, deep down I wasn’t ready to make the change because deep down I didn’t actually feel I needed to do it – which meant that I was not yet ready to change. Seeing the weight start to drop after using some techniques to stop my Coke habit (fun techniques I have used when working with other people to help them to improve their own diets and eating plans to great effect) was enough to trigger within me the desire and readiness to change further; from then on, change was inevitable.
And so it is with any change we want to make, be it a change in diet, giving up smoking, overcoming anxiety, boosting our own confidence – any change we choose to make will only work if deep down we actually want to make that change.
Sometimes we can want to change at the surface level, but deep down we are less convinced. I was working with someone who said they wanted to give up smoking, but no matter what they tried they never got past a few weeks before giving in and going back to their full 20-a-day. We did a little fun work together to explore things and discovered that deep down they did not actually want to stop smoking because subconsciously they felt it was providing them with a very important crutch, providing support they felt they needed to get through some other situations. So of course they couldn’t give up, deep down they not only didn’t want to give up but they believed they needed the smoking! After working to resolve these deeper-seated issues and to provide other coping techniques and strategies, and the deep-down need to smoke disappears, placing them in a much better position to change because now they want to change, both consciously and sub-consciously.
It’s the same with self-confidence issues. Sometimes the desire to change consciously is outweighed by the sub-conscious belief that the shyness is a good thing and changing it would be bad. No amount of “willpower” is going to work in such a situation, until the underlying issues are explored, understood and resolved; once they are, the person is in a much better position to change because they want to change with all their being, and that is an extremely powerful position in which to be!
You are actually a team including your conscious and your subconscious and these have lots of little “parts” which are concerned with particular individual aspects of “you”.
And just as anyone who has watched their favourite sports team pulling in different directions will know all too well, the team needs to all be pulling together, all focusing on the same result and the same direction, in order to succeed.
So it is with you. If part of you wants to make a change but another part doesn’t, for whatever reason (and sometimes these reasons can be very deeply hidden – we are very good at hiding things from ourselves), then you are going to find it very difficult to make any meaningful change.
But if you can find that part that doesn’t want to change, work with it and reassure it that the change is in your best interests, then you can bring it on-side and Team You has so much more power, enabling you to be your change far more easily and permanently.
So next time you are trying to change something and you keep hitting the old “if only I had the willpower” barrier, take a few moments to pause and to consider why it is that deep down you are not yet ready to change.
You might reflect upon what benefits your sub-conscious might see for not making the change – is there some hidden benefit to not changing? Once you understand those reasons then you are ready to change and will be in a much better position to be able to work on making the changes you want to make.