Willpower? There's no such thing.
I was talking to a lovely friend who was asking about thought habits and not having the ‘willpower’ to overcome them.
We had a great conversation where we explored the fact that willpower isn’t a ‘thing’, and is therefore not required to overcome any habit. And indeed, if you do stop the habit, willpower had nothing to do with it (because it doesn't exist).
If anything, ‘willpower’ is an excuse for doing the thing we know we shouldn’t (“I have no willpower”) or a way to congratulate ourselves when we do something we think is good (“It took a lot of willpower, but I did it!”).
What we call willpower is actually just a thought conversation in your head, between you, and you.
And here's the thing: if you’ve got the thought “I’ve got no willpower” running in the background, and you believe that’s true, the result of the conversation has been decided ahead of time.
It’s a token gesture so you can say “I tried, but I have no willpower”.
It’s also implied in this phrase, that you need the power of your will to overcome the power exerted by the thing you’re pitching it against. As we’ve explored before in a number of my blog posts, there’s no power inherent in anything outside of you to make you feel or act in a certain way.
There are no magic rays pulling you towards the fridge or the wine bottle.
In other words, if you’re relying on willpower to stop you from taking that last piece of cake or having that ‘reward’ glass of wine at the end of a long day, you’re on a hiding to nothing, because the entire premise that reliance is based on is illogical and false.
It’s a bit like relying on the imaginary friend you had as a child. A sweet idea, but with no basis in reality.
I could stop here, but I’m sure you’re probably wondering – well if not willpower, then what? How do I stop my bad habits if I don’t (can’t) use willpower?
It all comes back to understanding what’s really going on when you get those feelings that you think are telling you that you want something you shouldn’t have, or want to do something you shouldn’t do.
You see, a thought is a thought. It is not a command.
You can have a thought: “I want to eat that piece of cake” without actually eating the piece of cake, in the same way you can have a thought “I want to punch that person in the face” without actually punching someone.
The only difference between the two thoughts is that you recognise one as a thought that you don’t have to act on, and one as a command that has some power over you that you have to either act on or struggle against.In fact, they’re both exactly the same.When you recognise the ‘cake thought’ as thought, you don’t feel compelled to act on it.
When it looks like something other than thought, you’re misunderstanding where that feeling is coming from (hint: it’s not the cake) and you’re on the path to pigging out, or punching someone in the face, or having that glass of wine, or biting your fingernails - whatever your habit of thought is.
On the other hand, if and when you happen to get a new thought that you take as more real than the ‘must eat cake’ thought, you’ll naturally head in a different direction.
But I'm not saying you just have to wait for a new thought to appear, (meanwhile feeling powerless against the old one).
What's far more powerful, is recognising that even the thoughts that feel compelling are still made of thought. They don’t have any power to ‘make’ you do anything.
There's no such thing as 'willpower'; it’s a thought-conversation in your head, that’s made of the same ‘stuff’ as the thought (e.g. I want cake) that inspired the mental conversation in the first place. A battle of willpower with yourself (and it’s always with yourself, even when it looks like it’s with someone or something else) is nothing more than a chat in your head, often with a foregone conclusion.
What would happen if you saw it is ALL thought? What would be different about that conversation in your head?
If you'd like to explore this in much more depth, I have a special summer offer open until Friday 4th August. You can take a look and sign up here.