Forget Willpower

It’s been said that if we don’t create and control our environment, our environment will create and control us. Yikes! I don’t think any of us wants to be controlled by anything. Just the thought makes me cringe. Yet often, that’s exactly what we do. We unwittingly allow our environment to control us. Especially when it comes to our healthy habit goals.

Have you ever set a big life-changing goal for yourself, then despite all your hard work and good intentions, you still fell short? Well you’re not alone. Surveys show that 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail by February. Can you guess the number one reason people give for not achieving their goals? Willpower, or more to the point, lack of willpower. We set goals and devise plans, then relying on willpower, we white-knuckle our way through until the frustration becomes enough to make us give up. If we try and fail enough times, we are left thinking we’re the problem. I can’t count the number of times a client has said to me, “I just don’t have the willpower.” I’ve even believed it about myself.

Willpower is essentially the ability to exert control over obstacles in our environment, either internal or external. The key is to control the environment to remove or at least minimize the obstacles, not the other way around. Rather than trying to exert sheer will over our environment, changing it to work in our favor can help us reach our goals.
To do that, we need to set our environment up to support the behavior change we’re looking for, rather than constantly fighting against it. For example, instead of relying on willpower to avoid those cookies in the pantry that keep calling your name, just don’t have cookies around. If you want to start exercising, instead of just thinking about it, put your gym clothes where you can see them. I remember one client whose only goal for a week was to put her gym bag by the door. Six months later, she was 40 pounds lighter and off her blood pressure medication.
While they might sound simple, it’s these small environmental changes that work to keep us in control and can ultimately lead to the long-term, sustainable changes we’re striving for.