Why Willpower is simple… but also hard🤔?

“Just do it.” Seems simple enough, right?

…Wrong! …but also, right!

Okay okay, you’re confused – I get it! But I am being serious when I say that “just do it” attitude is both simple yet not easy to master.

First I’ll tell you why it is simple:

Because there is one step to follow. Yup, that’s it. All you I have to do is “just work out everyday”, or “just not eat cookies”, or “just write a page everyday”. It’s as simple as frying an egg…you just do it.

And after you do whatever “it” is for a certain amount of time, the willpower you originally needed will lessen as your actions become habit. So sooner or later, all the effort it took to motivate you to hit the gym turns into no effort at all – going to the gym will become an automatic routine.

“But Ella, you don’t understand…. willpower isn’t as easy as you make it seem.”

Well wait a minute! I never said it was easy. In fact, what I said was, willpower is “not easy to master”.

You see, the word simple means “basic or uncomplicated.”

Whereas the word easy means “achieved without great effort”. So although willpower is uncomplicated, it requires a lot of effort to employ.

And the reason for this effort is…. THE FEELS, HABIT, and ADDICTION.

Let’s start with THE FEELS:

Feelings try to govern your decisions

So you say you want to lose weight and be more productive on weekends, but you continuously find yourself saying the following statements: “I should probabaly wake up and start my day, but I’m going to keep sleeping because my bed is so warm and comfy.”

“I should probably stop eating now, but this meal is so delicious that I have to finish it.”

You say these things because you want to do things that make you feel good. And more importantly, you want to do things that provide immediate gratification. So when you have to make a simple “do or don’t” decision, it is likely you will choose the action that makes you FEEL GOOD immediately.

Now let’s look at the same scenarios, but this time as driven by HABIT:

(1) “I don’t need an alarm to wake up! I am awake at 8 AM daily but I definitely need to be in bed by 10 PM the night before.”

(2) “I always find myself going for an afternoon cookie at work”

Bad habits like cookies everyday

Your brain wants to be efficient. And what better way to be efficient than to complete routines without thinking about them.

However there are problems with your routines: (1) you probably don’t need 10 hours of sleep every night, and (2) the daily afternoon cookie is not a benefit to your health.

So the downside is, you created habits out of those problems. And by consistently implementing these particular actions/problems, you have created automatic routines that will be difficult to break.

Now let’s touch on ADDICTION… which is a whole other ball game:

It is hard to break an addiction, but still possible. Don't be trapped by addiction.

Addiction involves a release of chemicals in your brain when you engage in a certain activity. This chemical factor, which can often lead to withdrawal and tolerance, make breaking an addiction much more difficult than breaking a habit. However, there are programs (such as Alcoholics Anonymous) and professionals who specialize in helping people break their addictions. So breaking an addiction is possible!

You can see that THE FEELS, HABIT, AND ADDICTION all create what I call the ambivalence of willpower. “Just do it” and “it feels good to NOT do it” create an unfortunate simultaneous dichotomy which makes the simple act of willpower an incredibly difficult task.

Ambivalence of willpower

BUT THE IMPORTANT PART IS…

It is completely possible to retrain your brain in order to create habits that work AGAINST the ambivalence of willpower. By analyzing the action you want to enact willpower against, you will be able to note whether that action is satisfying the feels, a habit, or an addiction. And once you know what is making willpower difficult, you will better understand what will make willpower easier for you.

Don’t take your human-ness for granted – you are completely capable of doing things that are hard. So remember to work smart, work strategically, and work for long-term success.

Don’t let the ambivalence of willpower slow you down, and make this the #YearOfYou

As always, Happy Monday ❤✌

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*Disclaimer: I am not a medical or mental health professional. Any information and content on my website is not a substitute for professional, medical, or legal advice.