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Last Updated on February 28, 2018

Willpower Has Been Overrated, This Is What You Need Instead To Succeed

Willpower Has Been Overrated, This Is What You Need Instead To Succeed

Willpower can be described as the ability to control or reject desires to indulge in harmful and useless habits. It also allows people to arrive at decisions and then follow them through with perseverance until success has been achieved. Additionally, willpower can help us delay gratification, which as humans, we’re hard-wired to want instantly.

To give you a concrete example of willpower, just think of school. Students need willpower to self-control themselves to maintain attention in class, and to avoid breaking school rules in order to be seen as a good student.

    In our modern age, willpower has become known as an important element in success. By has it always been this way?

    How We Came to Believe That Willpower Leads to Success

      In ancient times we didn’t need willpower, instead, we followed our natural instincts to survive.

      However, as civilization evolved, humans wanted to put things in order. We started to create rules for people to follow. And only by following these rules could someone get what they want, and survive in a modern society. Because of these rules, we started to make self-discipline a virtue.

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      In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a marshmallow experiment proved willpower was the key to success.[1] The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a series of studies on delayed gratification led by psychologist Walter Mischel, then a professor at Stanford University. The study was simple but revealing. It tested children on a choice between the following rewards:

      1. Immediately being able to eat a marshmallow.
      2. Waiting 20 minutes and then being able to eat two marshmallows.

      The results of the study were fascinating. Children who were able to wait for the double reward, typically fared better in later life than those children who took the instant gratification route.

      Because of this famous study, more emphasis began to be put on the benefits of strengthening willpower.

      Nowadays, it’s fair to say that willpower controls a lot of what we do – as we see it as something critical to reaching goals and achieving things. And it’s not just about I want power, but also about I will, and I won’t.[2]

      Willpower training has also become big business. There’s countless workshops, online seminars as well as best-selling books such as Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength and The Willpower Instinct.

      Try searching for “willpower boost” on Google, and you’ll find thousands of results for articles that purport to show you the ways to do it.

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      The Limited Power of Willpower

        However, most people’s willpower remains weak. Some of the reasons for this are:

        • Emotions – which can affect our motivation levels.
        • Our physical condition – are you getting enough sleep? (For example.)
        • Previous failures – repeating these in our minds kills our willpower.[3]

        On top of the above issues, you may have noticed that even when you have an abundance of willpower, it has its limits. Every day, in one form or another, you exert willpower. For instance, if you resist eating a tasty piece of chocolate cake offered to you, then you’ve had to use emotional and mental power.

        Willpower is similar to a muscle. If we overuse it, we get tired. In other words, willpower is a limited resource.[4]

        How to Succeed with Limited Willpower

        Once you realize that willpower has its limits, then the key thing to know is that you must follow a system to reach your goals and dreams. Put systems first, and willpower second.

        Willpower is close to useless, if you do not allow it to work alongside a personal success system.

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        What is this system that I refer to? It’s a system that creates the right conditions in your mind and environment that helps make your success a surefire outcome. With this type of system in place, willpower will simply be an extra bonus in helping you to reach success. But to be clear, with the right system, even if your willpower fails, you’ll still keep on the road to success and achievement. These are the essential steps to build your own success system:

              1. Create an environment that is conducive to success

              Think for a moment about willpower. On its own, it doesn’t place any emphasis on changing your environment, instead, it puts its focus on overcoming your environment. It’s no wonder then, when the limited willpower begins to fail, people succumb to environmental influences – despite their best efforts to resist.

              As human beings, we are consciously and unconsciously influenced by what’s around us. These could be the news we read, the stories our friends tell us, and even the influence our home has on us.

              The secret is to, where possible, create an environment that helps (not hinders) the reaching of your goals. For example, if you want to spot binge eating snacks, give away all your snacks to others, and make sure you can’t reach any kind of snacks at your workplace or home.

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              Your environment can also be used to directly support your goals. For instance, if you want to be a professional artist, surround yourself with professional artists.

              2. Know what makes you happy

              By knowing what makes you happy, you’ll also reveal what motivates you. This is important.

              Take a look around at others, or delve into your past, and you will find that willpower falters when people encounter failure or come across negative events. This clearly demonstrates that willpower is affected by external factors, thus making it unreliable.

              Knowing what makes you happy is the perfect way to stay motivated to reach your goals – even when your willpower crumbles. This can be through rewarding yourself by watching a great movie (once you’ve achieved a goal milestone), or by simply enjoying the inner bliss you receive when walking on the pathway that keeps you happy, motivated and successful.

              Replace Your Old Beliefs – and Find New Success

              Willpower is not the be all and end all we’ve been taught to believe. While it’s certainly a component of success, it’s nowhere near as important as all the self-help gurus claim.

              As I’ve discussed above, having a system and a goal, are much more powerful factors in success than willpower.

              So, now you know the truth about success, take the steps I’ve suggested, and begin achieving more than you ever thought possible. And if you need any further motivation to help you on your way, check out the Lifehack article Make Good Habits Stick Easily With Productive—the Habit Tracker.

              Featured photo credit: Vecteezy via vecteezy.com

              Reference

              More by this author

              Leon Ho

              Founder & CEO of Lifehack

              Hard-Working People Climb to the Top, Smart People Hack It Do You Want to Know the Secret to Living a Fulfilling Life? How Much Do You Need to Give Up to Start Over? Is It Really Better to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone? Feeling So Stuck in Life That You’re About to Give Up? Help is Here!

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              Published on November 12, 2018

              10 Strategies to Keep Moving Forward When You’re Feeling Extra Stuck

              10 Strategies to Keep Moving Forward When You’re Feeling Extra Stuck

              We have all felt stuck at some point in our lives. Perhaps you feel stuck right now.

              Maybe you’re feeling a little stuck working on a creative project, like writing an article or painting a piece of art. Perhaps you started a new business, took on a major project at work or began a new health or fitness regimen.

              Your initial excitement has worn off and you’re now feeling stuck, confused or overwhelmed by how to keep progressing forward. Or maybe, you’re a lot stuck. You feel trapped in a job you hate, a relationship that isn’t working, a boatload of debt, or a life that has little resemblance to the one you’d imagined.

              Let’s be honest. Regardless of how stuck you are, it’s a terrible feeling. Feeling trapped and unsure how to move forward can lead to feelings of, confusion, angst, hopelessness, insecurity and overwhelm.

              Sometimes we just want to throw in the towel and give up. But don’t give up just yet.

              Whether you feel just a ‘little stuck’ or like you’re stuck in dry concrete; trying to make a small or big decision; wondering what you’re doing with your life), feeling trapped in a job, overwhelmed by debt, unhappy in a relationship or life that isn’t the one you want to live, these 10 strategies can help you move forward again.

              1. Take a step back

              Your first step forward when you feel stuck is to take a step back. Often, we try to get unstuck by pushing forward with sheer force or just trying harder. But as Einstein said,

              “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

              Access a different level of thinking by assessing your current situation from a new viewpoint. Whenever I’m working with clients who feel stuck, this is the first thing I ask them to do.

              I have them think about where they are, what got them here and what they really want. When you step back from your life, career, and challenges and look from a bit of a distance, you see things from a different perspective.

              Your Turn:

              Imagine you are lost in the woods. You could keep moving forward looking for your way out. You could panic and go in circles. You could head back the way you came. You could, as I learned in camp, just sit still until help arrives.

              Imagine instead that you could stop, take a deep breath and zoom out from your situation. Imagine you could fly above it all as if you were in a helicopter and look down at yourself among the trees.

              What could you see or notice differently from this perspective – a different route, people there to support you, the way out is closer than you thought?

              Another way to ‘zoom out’ is to look at your situation as a neutral observer. Imagine you’re a fly on the wall watching your life. What insights or advice would you give yourself?[1]

              2. Get specific

              It’s hard to move forward until you fully understand why you are stuck. You have to get specific and identify what’s really going on. You must name it to tame it.

              A great mentor of mine once said,

              “A well-defined problem presents its own solution”.

              If you want to find a solution, you must truly understand the underlying problem. This is one of the premises of coaching. When you dig a little deeper to the real issue/challenge/blockage, solutions tend to present themselves.

              For example, there are big differences between, ‘I feel stuck’ and ‘I feel stuck because I’m overwhelmed with the details’ or ‘I feel stuck because I’m worried what people are going to think of me.’ Once you name it, you are more likely to be able to tame it.

              One of the most important questions I ask clients is, ‘What’s getting in the way?’ When they answer, the next question is always, ‘What else?’ We continue along this route until we feel we’ve gotten to the real, underlying issue(s).

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              Your Turn:

              Seek to uncover the underlying issues that are getting in your way and stopping you from progressing. You can do this by journaling, talking to someone who knows you well, or simply taking the time to ask yourself these questions.

              Once you name it, perhaps the solution will then present and tame itself.

              3. Reconnect to your ‘why’

              Feeling stuck is often because you’ve lost sight of the bigger picture and what’s important. You’ve lost your why.

              Why did you start this in the first place? What reasons, values or passions drove you to make this change in your life? What picture do you have for yourself, your business and your life? Why are you wanting to achieve or accomplish this?

              By reminding yourself of your original intention and purpose, it gives you the intrinsic motivation to get back on track and move ahead.

              Connecting to your deeper ‘why’ will be the fuel that keeps you going, even through tough times and roadblocks.

              Your Turn:

              Whatever you’re stuck on right now, grab a journal and ask yourself, “Why is this important to me?” ,”Why did I start this in the first place?” “What am I trying to achieve here and why is that important to me? “

              4. Brainstorm Your Options

              We often feel stuck because we don’t see any way out from our current situation – we feel we don’t have any options.

              By brainstorming ideas and possibilities, you expand your mind and open your thinking to finding a new solution. When you can see potential options, you won’t feel so trapped anymore. 

              This is not about deciding the one thing or making the right choice, it’s about allowing your creative mind to expand and see all the potential possibilities. We often dive straight into finding the right one and eliminate anything that doesn’t feel perfect.

              That’s why so many people feel stuck. They are attempting to find the next right career, the best way to handle a situation or the one perfect idea. This can lead to a lot of stress and analysis paralysis.

              The reality is that there is no single best or right. There are many possibilities that could work for your situation. It’s about the next step right now.

              If you hate your career, what new potential careers are on your mind? List them all out – even the ones that seem unrealistic or silly.

              If you’re unhappy in your relationship, what can you do? There are likely a lot more options than you’ve considered. What are they?

              Your Turn:

              Make a list of options for your current situation – as crazy or ‘out there’ as they might be.

              When you think you’ve thought of everything, ask yourself, ‘What other options are there?’ This allows you to dig deeper and see ideas you might not have otherwise explored.

              Then, and only then can you start to identify the way forward.

              5. Take a brain break

              Full disclosure, I’m stealing this strategy from my 7-year-old daughter’s second-grade teacher.

              The other night I was helping my daughter with homework, she was getting super frustrated and wasn’t sure what to write in a letter to her big buddy. She was on the verge of tears when she looked up and asked, ‘Mom, can I take a brain break?’ She got up from the table, walked downstairs to her room and played with her stuffed animals. When she came upstairs a short time later, she was as happy as could be and jumped right into her writing.

              We could all use a brain break when we’re stuck. A chance to shift focus gives our brains a chance for quiet; it takes the pressure off so we can come back with a fresh mind and new perspective.

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              When we take a brain break, it refreshes our thinking and helps us discover another solution to a problem or see a situation through a different lens. The brain break actually helps to incubate and process new information.[2]

              A great brain break is to do something physical that gets you in flow. Take a hike, a run, a walk around the block. Another well-known brain break is meditation – which has so many proven benefits I can’t even begin to name them all. Try it, it works.

              I have one friend who says taking a shower helps her get unstuck. ’Somehow good thoughts come up in that silent space.’

              Your Turn:

              What kind of brain breaks can you give yourself? Which would be most helpful?  It’s not just for second graders anymore.

              6. Let go of what’s not working

              Have you ever walked through the mud and had your boot get stuck and your foot fly out? When this happens, you usually have two choices: either put your boot back on and keep plodding through, repeating the frustration as it continually gets stuck, or you can take off that boot and move forward.

              The same is true in life. When we get stuck, we often stay in the mud and try to drag our boot along. We keep doing what’s clearly not working. The boot represents limiting beliefs, old habits, or stories you’re telling yourself.

              Remember in the movie “UP” when Mr. Fredricksen is trying to get his house to fly? It was too heavy. He had to dump out his belongings until the house was light enough to lift off.

              Same is true here; you’ve got to get rid of the emotional baggage you’re carrying so you can move forward and fly.

              Take my client *Lucy for example. She was stuck trying to figure out what she wanted next in her life and career. She was having trouble finding a job she was interested in. Through our work together, we uncovered that Lucy had an interesting belief: that having a job and being happy were mutually exclusive.

              She believed she couldn’t have a job and be happy at the same time. This meant she was either going to be jobless and joyful or employed and miserable. In order to move forward in her career search, she needed to take off this ‘boot’ and believe she could find a job where she could, in fact, be happy.

              Your Turn:

              What’s holding you back? An old habit, limiting belief or story you are telling yourself? How can you reframe your thinking in order to change the direction you are headed?

              7. Know what you need to get unstuck

              We all have a way in which we operate that is unique to us. When you understand how you’re wired, you can understand more specifically what you need to get unstuck. It’s like your own personal formula for moving forward.

              For me, I need a crystal-clear picture of what I’m trying to achieve and a big, tangible goal to reach for.  When I don’t have a clear picture of the end result or challenging target I’m trying to hit, I feel stuck and demotivated. 

              Here are some common needs: 

              Astep-by-step plan, to understand why something is important, deadlines and impending pressure, unconditional encouragement and support, to think things through, connecting to a deeper meaning, freedom, and flexibility, and certainty.

              Do you relate to any of these?

              Your Turn:

              What do you need to get unstuck? If you’re not quite sure, you might want to check out the I.D.™ (Instinctive Drives™). It’s a tool I’ve used for almost 20 years (and have all my clients take). It helps you understand what you need to be at your best, including what will help you get unstuck.

              8. Shift your state

              When you’re in a stuck state, it actually creates a cycle of ‘stuckness.’ Get yourself out of there!

              Instead of placing all your focus and energy on the problem, shift your focus and energy to another area of your life. Go do something that brings you joy; spend time with someone you love.

              Do anything to shift your state and mood. This will switch your downward cycle of ‘doom and gloom’ into an upward cycle of ‘hope and possibility’.

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              A great way to shift your state is to practice gratitude. So, you hate your job. Practice gratitude for other areas of your life. Does it support your family? Allow you to work remotely?

              I’m not saying you should stay in a job you hate, I’m just recommending that you get perspective. A state shift brings energy, hope, and positivity into your mindset…keys to getting out of that dreaded stuck cycle.

              Your Turn:

              What always puts you in a good mood? What brings you joy, happiness or fulfillment?   Do it! And make sure to practice gratitude. Try this: each morning for the next week, write down three things you are grateful.

              9. Take action

              Getting into action is critical to getting unstuck. There’s no substitute for momentum. Action enables further action, while inactivity creates inertia, self-doubt, and confusion.

              I love this quote from Simon Sinek:

              ‘If we think of everything we have to do, we feel overwhelmed. If we do the one thing we need to do, we make progress.’

              My client *Marcus had just made a career move and was setting out to start his own wellness business. The biggest problem getting in his way? Inertia.

              The more he thought about what he was going to do, the bigger the endeavor began to feel. The more he explored the risks, challenges, and his extensive to-do list, the more he felt overwhelmed. He was stuck. 

              However, once he took action, starting with quick wins, he gained momentum and was able to move forward and tackle bigger and more challenging steps. Once he broke through his inaction, he was on a roll.

              My grandfather always told us: a path leads to a path. We can’t know what the future holds and trying to figure out everything before we start is a recipe for disaster.

              Know that a path will lead to a path, a step will lead to the next step, but you have to start walking first. 

              Your Turn:

              What’s the next step you can take to move forward? Where is there a quick win?

              When you think about your first (or next) step, keep it small and achievable to get the momentum going.

              10. Reach out for help

              This summer, my Dad took his new truck and my twin daughters on a trip to the Oregon sand dunes. Only a few minutes into the adventure, they got really stuck. They tried shoveling sand and getting out on their own, but they couldn’t. Nearly an hour later, (which felt like an eternity stuck in the middle of a pelting sandstorm), a little dune buggy came along. My Dad’s truck was six times its size, but all they needed was a little pull. They hooked up the wench and within minutes, they were free.

              We can all use a little help when we’re stuck. This might be talking to a good friend who knows and understands you or reaching out to get advice from someone who’s been in a similar situation to yours.

              Maybe it’s hiring a coach who will ask powerful questions to help you see things from a different angle, a therapist who can uncover hidden roadblocks or a consultant to share opinions and experiences.

              When you’re on your own, it can feel hopeless, overwhelming and just plain impossible. But, just a little push or pull from someone can quickly change your trajectory.

              While this may seem like one of the easiest strategies, it is actually one of the hardest to do. Why? Even though we are biologically wired to help each other, many of us find it challenging to reach out.

              There’s a reason for this:[3]

              ‘Asking for help exposes us to numerous possible social threats, which is why it’s so uncomfortable. It can feel like a tacit admission of weakness, which lowers our status, and can be an invitation for scorn. It creates uncertainty, and invites the possibility of rejection.’

              Your Turn:

              Who is your dune buggy? Who can you reach out to ask for help right now?

              Not ready to reach out to someone just yet? Maybe you can try asking the universe. Some call this prayer, others spiritual guidance,  others faith.  Whatever you call it, reach out to someone, somewhere, somehow…now.

              Afraid to ask for help? Here’s how to change your outlook to aim high!

              Bonus: When all else fails, be patient

              Sometimes when we’re stuck, we just need to practice patience. Patience that the answer is coming; the shift is going to happen. Patience that you’ve done all that you can and now, it’s time to wait and see what comes back to you.

              I’m not suggesting you wait for months or years; but sometimes we expect things to change quickly, yet things take time. This is especially true for big life decisions and transitions or when there are others involved, like your relationships or job.

              I love the line from Max Ehrmann’s’ Desiderata:

              ’…whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.’  

              Trust the unfolding and know that sometimes it may take a little longer than you’d like.

              There’s usually a good reason, even if you can’t see it. Maybe it’s not time to move forward or make changes just yet. Maybe you don’t have all the information you need, and when you do, you’ll quickly make progress. Maybe you’re actually stuck where you need to be right now.

              When I was in my most recent major career transition, feeling stuck and wondering if I would ever figure out my next step, this quote from Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu was exactly what I needed:

              ‘Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?’

              Stay strong. Be patient. The more stuck you are, the greater the freedom will feel.

              You’re going to be okay. It won’t always be like this. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Hang in there and trust the process. Your breakthrough is coming.

              Final Thoughts

              Which of these strategies feel like they will work best for you and your current stuck situation?

              You don’t have to use all of them, it just takes one.

              Remember, any movement, momentum or shift will help get you unstuck and moving forward again. Besides, it’s never too late to start things over! Here’s the proof:

              How to Start Over and Reboot Your Life When It Seems Too Late

              Featured photo credit: Michał Parzuchowski via unsplash.com

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