Why You Can’t Rely on Willpower

By Jeff Ford

When you type your credit card information into the checkout cart for your event and click the finalize payment button, everything changes. You’re not only filled with excitement, but you immediately recognize that your schedule is going to change. You’re now in training.

Thoughts of eating better and mobilizing more this season flood into your head. You think to yourself that this is the training cycle, the one in which there’s no way that you’re ever going to miss a workout session. You’ll train at 10pm at night if it kills you.

If you’re like me, you tend to believe that your life and habits can improve with a click of a button. You’re optimistic that when you set a goal and simply find a little bit more self-control everything gets better. It’s this idea that when something isn’t going right in your life, all you have to do is buck up and find more willpower.

The fact of the matter is that if it were a willpower game, you’d easily qualify for Kona or run a sub 3-hour marathon with the snap of your fingers. You’d instantly change your nutrition and always remember to breathe before bed. Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple.

Your attitudes, beliefs and perceptions surrounding what you do and how you do it is an insurmountable factor when it comes to your execution. Willpower is a limited resource, and your environment dictates whether it quickly depletes or builds up reserves.

Strengthen Your Perception

No matter what kind of athlete you are, there will be races you look back on that were dictated by your attitude. You just couldn’t go hard that day because you didn’t have it. Ask yourself, is this your body talking or is this your personal limiting belief? Could you have shaved off three minutes on that swim, or was your perception standing in the way?

Whether you’re working on managing your weight or training to get faster, your beliefs while you’re executing are absolutely everything. The mere thought that you may lack willpower is why you can’t rely on it.

Understand that your self-control improves over time with every repetition. It is dictated by the mind that you set. Each time you say no to unhealthy food at a restaurant, you’re proving to yourself that keeping it clean makes sense. You’re perceiving it as important.

You’ll never ‘willpower’ your way to a marathon finish. You train yourself to perceive suffering as the only option. Your belief is what allows you to cross that finish line.

Do Your Toughest Thing First

Every time you resist an impulse, temptation or deviate from what you had planned, willpower is depleted. You’ve had those days when everything was planned out yet that one unexpected incident in the morning screwed it all up.

Whether you’re working on hitting every training session or bypassing the foot long sub at lunchtime, every decision you make, makes the next decision that much harder. You’re immersed in a world of information overload, and the rate at which you receive things today, when you’re reading this, is crazy different from even a decade ago.

These things considered, make sure that your toughest or your most important objective (the thing that needs more grit) comes first. Your perceived belief will change when the objective you’re working on building gets your initial attention in front of everything else.

You are not achieving the things you want because you have not developed the belief or suffered enough. Anything that’s important to you is a part of your day because you placed it there. You developed it and now perceive it as valuable.

Dictate Your Own Environment

Why is that when you’re out to dinner and order last that it’s not originally what you planned to pick when you sat down? Someone ordered what you wanted, and you had to be different. The whole table went around and each of your friends got a drink, so you had too. It wasn’t your willpower that dictated the outcome — it had a great deal to do with your environment.

Now, don’t let yourself off the hook completely because you were the one who made the decision to sit down at that table. You are the one who orders in pizza because you’re out of food or skipped your training because your bike needed service.

Unfortunately, you’ll never live in a perfect environment. Nothing in this world is going to help you. Look at the addition of chairs and gluten-free foods? Cushioned shoes?

Instead of trying to self-control your decision-making and rely on willpower, get yourself out of as many environments that call on it. Every decision you make, makes the next decision that much harder so why are you making so many freaking decisions? You can’t rely on willpower because your environment dictates just as much.

Your Action Is Everything

Taking action develops your perception and beliefs. Every time you do, it weakens willpower and puts execution on you. There’s no relying on willpower at that point — your outcome is all your own. Do your newest objectives first thing and dictate your own environment. Your grit to focus on these steps over blaming willpower is everything.