What No One Tells You About Willpower

We’ve all experienced that friendship where we thought we were better friends than we actually were. We had an expectation of loyalty and exclusiveness that just wasn’t there on the other person’s end. Those relationships hurt because we are more invested, loyal, and focused on them than they are on us.

Willpower is like that friend. We think we can count on willpower to make the changes that we want. We think that willpower will be loyal to us, that it will care about the same goals that we have and work with us to help us get where we want to be.

In actuality, willpower spreads itself thin and will not focus on one specific goal at a time. Willpower is flighty and social; works on all aspects of our lives and refuses to save it’s energy for the things we want it to focus on.

The way willpower actually works is like this: we start out with a big bucket full and every decision we make throughout the day drains a little bit from the bucket. EVERY decision.

  • What time to wake up in the morning
  • What outfit to wear
  • What to eat for breakfast
  • Should I have coffee?
  • What route will I drive into work today?
  • Should I gun it through the yellow light or slow down?
  • Where should I park in the parking lot?
  • Do I open emails first or listen to voicemails?
  • Etc etc etc

All day long we make decisions and a little more of our willpower drains away. By the time we get home in the evening we have very little left so it is extra hard to resist that piece of pizza or the dessert everyone else is eating.

When we make a decision to get healthy we think we will be able to direct our willpower to help us out. We say to ourselves that we will work out X number of times a week and we will not eat dessert and we will only have one helping. We assume that when the time comes to get out of bed in the morning to work out or to say no to the extra slice of pizza that we will just summon our willpower and do it.

BUT, too bad for us, our willpower is now a tiny tablespoon in the bottom of the bucket and there is no summoning it to do what we want.

There is good news though. Willpower has a cousin that is loyal and will stand with us when we want. The cousin who has our back is: Planning ahead.

Ugh you might say. Planning? That’s so boring! Planning takes so much extra thought; it is So NOT sexy.

I like to think of Willpower and Planning as Scarlett O’Hara and Melanie Wilkes from Gone With The Wind.

Scarlett is strong and bold. She tolerates Melanie because she wants to use her to get close to Ashley. She is not the loyal friend that Melanie believes.

Melanie is loyal, loving, and dutiful with a hidden strength that melds into the background when Scarlett is around.

Scarlett is tough. She gets stuff done but she’s unpredictable and a bit of a user. Melanie is reliable. She is predictable. She follows the rules and social mores of the time. Kind of a snooze but she is lovely in her own way.

In times of need who would you rely on? Scarlett or Melanie?


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