Everything They Told You About Willpower Isn’t True

As soon as a speaker or a celebrity starts lecturing you about willpower, do yourself a favor and stop listening. Switch to another podcast, or another YouTube channel, or leave the venue. They are wasting your time.

The truth is, everyone who is lecturing you about willpower does not have more willpower than you do. You want to know why? Because we all have willpower. Everyone has the “will” to do something. These motivational speakers aren’t any different than you.

The idea that willpower is something you need to attain or train yourself to have is all a big lie that mainstream self-help and motivational books have been feeding us for years.

You’re probably wondering, if everyone has willpower, then why aren’t we able to achieve the things we want to do? Why aren’t you taking the steps necessary to shed those few extra pounds? Why aren’t you applying for that Master’s degree you’ve been talking about for the last five years?

And from a business standpoint, why aren’t you starting your own dream company? Why aren’t you executing that innovative idea you and other executives mentioned in a meeting one time last year?

For many, their answer to these questions either involve blaming their current circumstances, or their lack of will power. But we’re here to tell you, that neither one of these things are what’s holding you back.

Let’s take Usain Bolt, the best sprinter of all time—according to many—, as an example. How did he become the best sprinter of all time? Was it his willpower? The favorable circumstances and opportune situations he was put in throughout his life? If this really were the case—that it was all purely circumstantial and based on incredible willpower—, then a millionaire, who really wants to be the fastest man alive, would become the 100-meter champion. If we lived in a world like that, no one would stand a chance. Only the wealthy would succeed, which isn’t the case in reality. So you’re waiting until you muster your willpower? You’re waiting until the circumstances are right?

This is the kind of fairytale a lot of motivational speakers feed us, which can be both demotivating and disheartening. Because now you’re thinking once I have the willpower to do something, and once all the stars in the universe align the way I want them to, then I’ll go after my dream.

So back to Usain Bolt, realistically speaking, this is how he became the 100-meter world champion:

First, he figured out that he had a passion that matched a talent he had.

Second, he practiced, and practiced, and practiced for different competitions and races.

Third, he found people to support him and root for him all the way to the end.

Again, he practiced some more.

He then finally participated in track and field races and events. Some he won, some he lost.

And he did this years on end.

Yes, he had willpower, but it wasn’t the driving force behind his success. And it’s not that he had “perfect circumstances” that allowed him to pursue his passions. Even Usain Bolt himself said that anyone can run at such staggering speeds. If you want to run as fast as Usain Bolt, you would need to follow his rigorous training and diet regimen to build stability and enhance strength, and be consistent with it.

But most importantly, he took action to achieve it. He didn’t wait until he had the right amount of “willpower” to achieve what he did. And he certainly didn’t wait for the right circumstances to get up and start training for the Olympics. He just got up and did it. He used action to activate the willpower within him.

Leadership is taking action even when you don’t have “the will” to do something.  Leadership is taking action, even if you aren’t emotionally ready to do so. Leadership is taking action despite the negative thinking that goes on in your mind about it “not being a good time.” 

Leadership is just that, taking action despite all the forces going against you, whether those forces are internal or external.

So next time you blame your lack of willpower for being unable to achieve your goals, ask yourself this: What am I constantly trying to avoid and blaming on lack of willpower? What is the action I need to take specifically for this moment?

Is it that you need to put in an extra hour of work? An extra hour of studying? An extra hour of exercise? Then do it!  Take action even when the “will” is not there.

What’re the goals you’re trying to achieve that you’re avoiding? Is it that you need to be more attentive to your team at work? Do you need to spend more time with the family? Do you need to take better care of your health? Do you need to quit smoking? Forget about needing willpower to pursue your goals. Forget about the “circumstances” needing to be right. What you need isn’t willpower or the right circumstances, it’s taking action.

Every time you go against the little voice inside your head that says “I can’t because…” or “I don’t want to because…”, you’re building more and more of your confidence as a leader.

I’m sure there were days when Usain Bolt didn’t feel like practicing or sticking to his diet. But he didn’t rely on motivation or “willpower” to stick to his regime. He probably thought to himself, “Yes, I don’t feel like exercising, and I don’t have the willpower to do it whatsoever today. But I’m still going to do it anyway.” And what do you know? He’s now an Olympic gold winner. He probably dragged his feet, hating every minute of the exercise he was doing. But it didn’t matter. He just took action.

The takeaway is, you can do absolutely anything you put your mind to, even when you don’t have the willpower to do it at the moment. All you need is to take action right now. Let your emotions be, and let the negative thoughts be. Give yourself to try a hundred times and fail a hundred times.

Leaders are different because they take action, that’s it.

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