Why Willpower Rarely Works

Why Willpower Rarely Works with Lynda Lippin

Willpower is seen as a positive character trait in Western culture. Having willpower is being strong, self-controlled, and appropriate. Merriam Webster defines willpower in two ways, “the ability to control one’s own actions, emotions, or urges,” and “strong determination that allows one to do something difficult.”

While this doesn’t sound bad, the problems come when we start to judge ourselves and others based on a perceived lack of willpower.

I like to define willpower as, “suffering through stuff I hate to attain a goal.” Since I hate to suffer, I try to steer clear of willpower as much as possible.

Defining Your Goals

Most women don’t define their goals well. We tend to have more general goals, and goals that involve other people.

“I’d love to lose some weight, (so people find me more attractive, so Tom will like me more, so people don’t judge me)” vs. “Losing ten pounds will help my knees feel better.”

“Meditating would probably help me, (so Mary doesn’t annoy me as much, so I’m nicer to people, so people like me more)” vs. “Counting my breath for five minutes every other day will help lower my blood pressure.”

It’s important to consider why you want to attain a goal. If it’s purely to help someone else feel better, ask yourself why this is so important for you?


You may have heard the acronym SMART goals. This refers to goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

SMART goals actually require less willpower since they are better constructed and more internal. By defining your specific goals, making sure they are achievable, measurable, and relevant, and outlining a timeline, you take control of the situation and what it means to you.

For example, I have several SMART goals going at any given time. Right now I’m working on:

  • Exercising 20-30 minutes per day in whatever way feels good to me that day (because it helps me feel better and function better in every way).
  • Meditating daily for at least five minutes (because it helps focus my mind, calms me down, lowers my blood pressure, and increases productivity).
  • Constructing two new programs and offers in my Pilates business (to increase revenue and clients served over the last year).

Unless I have a hard deadline for a goal, I check in every two to three months to see how I’m progressing.

What’s Wrong with Willpower

When we perceive that others have “no willpower” we tend to judge them. And we do the same thing to ourselves.

Let’s revisit last month’s myths about belly fat:

  • “You can’t out-train a bad diet.”
  • “Carbs and sugar cause belly bloat.”
  • “Do this workout to shred your mid-section.”
  • “Get rid of that layer of fat.”

Look at the assumptions here – that if you exercise and have a belly, then you must have no willpower when it comes to food. That if you have a bloated belly, it must be because of your lack of willpower around carbs and sugar. That if you had the willpower to do the right workouts, your belly would be shredded, and you wouldn’t have extra fat.

That if you were willing to suffer for the goal, to use that willpower, you’d have it all.

BUT, what if you decided to not suffer through things you hate to attain goals you may not even care about? Couldn’t you still have it all?

I say, “Yes, you can!”

Feeling Better Is A Great Motivation

As I’ve said before, life is too short to keep forcing yourself to do things you hate (which is the definition of willpower). Reframing your goals into SMART goals, and looking at what makes you feel better, will help you move forward without suffering.

I exercise daily, not because I want to look a certain way or be a certain size, but because it makes me feel and function better. I meditate, not because people say it’s good for me, but because I can feel how much clearer I think and how much more productive I am when I take those 10 minutes.

I do podcasts and livestreams, write articles, and serve my clients because having a thriving business that brings me money makes everything else I want to do possible.

I invite you to look at your goals and the areas of your life where you force your way in through willpower. Look at those goals, decide which ones are truly important to you, and reframe using the SMART framework, and the enjoyment metric.

Is the goal for you or someone else? Will attaining that goal make you happier and make your life a bit easier or better? If the answers are “you” and “yes,” go for it!

And, if you need help with a plan to attain your goals relating to feeling and functioning better, there are many great coaches and teachers, including me, who are happy to help!

Connect with Lynda today!

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