Ever since I was a little girl, I viewed willpower as a positive thing. I can remember being encouraged to do things I hated, and just powering through them. Going to school on the bus where I was bullied every single day? Did it! Slogged through AP Biology when English was my jam (but the AP English teacher told me I wasn’t good enough)? Did it and got the college credits!
Basically, I learned that life is hard, most things aren’t enjoyable, and I just had to suck up the bad to get to some slivers of fun and enjoyment. When I reached “middle age” I realized that this is not the best way. In fact, I ended up exhausted and anxious.
Culturally, having willpower is seen as being strong and self-controlled. If you’ve ever been called “too emotional” or “out of hand”, you know how much “controlling yourself” is seen as a plus. In fact, Merriam Webster defines willpower as “the ability to control one’s own actions, emotions, or urges,” and “strong determination that allows one to do something difficult.”
But what happens when we are “out of control”? When we speak our truths and express our anger and frustration? What happens when we decide not to do the difficult thing? Or to decide for ourselves what difficult things we want to tackle and for what reasons?
I 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. I look for attainable goals, and then build on those.
Our cultural and societal focus on willpower leads us to judge those we find lacking, and unfortunately that often includes ourselves. Since I teach approachable exercise classes here on Revel, and have struggled with weight and fitness my whole life, I’m going to look at some fitness myths:
“You can’t out-train a bad diet.”
“Ab exercises will give you a six-pack.”
“Do this workout to shred your mid-section.”
“Tone your arms, your legs, or your backside.”
First, look at the assumptions here - that if you exercise and have a belly or some body fat, then you must have no willpower when it comes to food. That if you don’t have defined abs (which almost nobody does), it must be because of your lack of willpower around exercise. That if you had the willpower to do the right workouts, your could spot-tone all your wobbly areas.
These myths assume that you should be willing to suffer to reach unrealistic goals that will somehow make your life complete. Yes, you too can have it all if you’re willing to be miserable.
What if you decided not to do this? What if you decided not to suffer through things you hate to attain goals you may not even care about? Can’t you still have it all?
I say, “Yes, you can!”
Life is too short to keep forcing yourself to do things you hate. Willpower is not the best way forward. Instead, look at what makes you feel good, which will help you move forward without pain and suffering.
I exercise daily, not because I want to look a certain way, or be a certain size, but because exercise helps me feel and function better. I meditate, not because I’ve been told 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 few minutes in the morning.
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 the areas of your life where you might be using willpower to force your way through, and see if you can find a more positive motivation.
Since I started this work of reframing, I’ve let go of some things, added others, and look at happiness as my metric. It changed my life!
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