There. I said it. Willpower is all the rage in behavior change circles, but the reality is, it’s a total joke.
You are not alone. You are not weak. You are not defective.
More than likely, you are just using an outdated frame of reference. Let’s re-frame things, shall we?
Fact #1: Human beings are inherently resistant to change.
It’s not just you. It’s not just your neighbor. It’s everyone. Even the most high-achieving people you know: CEO’s, professional athletes, rockstars. No...one...is...exempt.
Change requires a lot of brainpower.
Our brain is designed to conserve brainpower (whenever and wherever possible).
Our brain resists change.
Practically speaking, one of the ways that our brain conserves brainpower is by creating habits. Habits minimize the amount of brainpower required to do a certain task; the same sequence of events is played out over and over again so your brain can go on “autopilot” to execute the sequence (e.g., brushing your teeth every morning, driving home from work every night).
However, when we want to change one of those habits, our brain is required to do more work...and it does not like that. Oh no, it doesn’t. So, it requires a bit of a nudge. And that nudge is what we affectionately refer to as “willpower”.
Fact #2: Willpower is an exhaustible resource.
This brings me to my second point. Willpower does play a role in behavior change, but it’s not the role that you think.
Willpower is effective at initiating a new habit but it is not effective at sustaining a new habit.
Why? Because willpower is finite. The more you use it, the less you have.
This means that you want to rely on willpower only in very specific circumstances and only for very limited amounts of time. Otherwise, you will be very, very disappointed with the outcome.
Willpower is a power tool - high energy, short duration. Use it wisely.
Fact #3: Willpower + skillpower is the new black.
In order to effectively change a habit, 3 things must occur:
a) decision to change behavior
b) willpower to initiate behavior change
c) skillpower to perpetuate behavior change
Once you have decided to change a behavior, it is the combination of willpower and skillpower that will get you there. Willpower is 20% of the battle. Skillpower is the remaining 80%. Everyone skips over the skillpower part.
In the old world, the proverb read: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”.
Given what we just discussed, I’d like to suggest a new paradigm: Where there's a skill, there's a way.
Skill-building is the key to the kingdom, people. Skill-building is where it’s at. Skill-building will set you free.
So, what behavior are you going to change through this new paradigm?