Last blog we talked about how willpower is a construct of the mind.  If you believe it is capped, then you have just capped yourself.  On the other hand, if you don’t believe there is a willpower limit, then you will continue to do things that are good for you and for your future.  This trains your dorsal striatum to side more with your prefrontal cortex of your brain – the logical side.

This blog will dive even deeper in the psychology of doing things that are good for you, versus doing things that take you away from your goals.

Let’s take the example that was used in the previous blog, where our hero is just waking up to the alarm clock at the crack of dawn.  He’s warm, comfortable and extremely sleepy still – will he get up into the cold and head to the gym?

The question inevitably pops to mind: “Sh*t, do I really want to go to the gym?”, and that’s when the battle is lost.

That’s another notch on the side of ‘Willpower Failure’.  As this pattern keeps repeating, ‘Willpower Failure’ begins to have more notches than ‘Willpower Success’, and a pattern starts developing for more ‘Willpower Failure’.

This is where things really begin to snowball.

Because when the pattern develops, the hero begins to see himself as a failure and this starts to dictate future behaviour as well.

The next time the alarm clock goes off in the morning, the dialogue will have evolved to: “I can’t seem to get up early to go to the gym – so I’m a failure.  I’m a big failure so I’m not going to get up.”

And a downward spiral begins.

How do you break this vicious cycle?

Here are two points to help you stage a comeback.

  1. Practice self-compassion.

You need to make peace with yourself and stop bashing yourself for missing a gym session or if you ate poorly one time.  The more angst you feel about yourself, the more you’re just building up that pattern of distrust.  You won’t trust yourself making the right decision when the time comes.

Rather, focus on the future.  Forgive yourself and don’t dwell on the failure.  Don’t allow the ‘Willpower Failure’ pattern to continue.

  1. Focus on trust.

When you don’t trust yourself to make the right decision when the time comes, then you will continue to fail at doing the right thing (dorsal striatum again).

Know that patterns can be changed, unlike changing your ‘self’ which can be long and arduous.  Build a new pattern and stick to it.  Choose an action for the new pattern that is so easy and simple to do, that you cannot fail so you build trust in your new pattern.

As that trust grows, so will your ability to keep going (ie. re-wiring the dorsal striatum).

You need to see yourself in a stable track record before your trust takes over and can carry you through.

There was a study done on smoking Orthodox Jews where they were asked to abstain from smoking.  They measured their level of smoke cravings on working days (when they normally smoke) and on the day of the Sabbath (their religion prohibits them from smoking on the Sabbath).  What the researchers found was that their cravings were much higher on working days and they didn’t crave smoking at all on the Sabbath.  Their trust in themselves was so steadfast of not smoking on the Sabbath that even the biochemistry of nicotine addiction (which is known to be one of the worst kind of addiction there is) wasn’t a factor.

Smoking on the Sabbath was just not a possibility in their minds.

The mind is fascinating in its capabilities and we shouldn’t limit ourselves by artificially capping it, or self-sabotaging it.

Develop it, train it, and you shall reap the rewards for life!


For more information on this topic refer to Jeff Wise’s article on Science of Us.


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