You Should Not Rely on Willpower

There is an easier solution to trick your brain into doing hard things.

Photo by Vladislav Muslakov on Unsplash

How often do you hear people mentioning willpower or self-control? It is a cliché word in the world of motivational and self-help industries. Why though?

We relate willpower to success and productivity. It is true; willpower plays a significant role in our daily accomplishments. Without it, we won’t even try to accomplish our goals.

In a 2004 research paper, high self-control correlates with a better life — in many aspects. From the report, it is concluded that:

First, people with high self-control had better grades.

Second, people with high self-control showed fewer impulse control problems, including binge eating and alcohol abuse.

Third, they showed better psychological adjustment.

Fourth, high self-control was correlated with better interpersonal relationships.

Last, people with high self-control reported more guilt and less shame than other people.

Sure, having high self-control and willpower is beneficial. But what if the supposed results of high self-control are the trigger of high self-control? What if willpower is just a product of our actions or environments?

Let’s define what self-control or willpower is.

Willpower is the control exerted to do something or restrain impulses. (Google Translate)

It is the ability of humans to overwrite the brain’s quick decisions. If the brain wants candy, having willpower is to overwrite it and take the fruits instead.

The good news: willpower is real. We can control ourselves.

The bad news: it is taxing and not sustainable in the long run.

A 2017 research paper shows that.

Effortful self-control was consistently unrelated to goal attainment throughout all analyses.

It also shows that when people resist temptations, they feel depleted. In other words, they feel exhausted. When they feel exhausted, they are less likely to achieve their goals.

The easier way to accomplish a goal is to change our environment instead. We can shape our surroundings according to our needs. The more comfortable we are in doing a task, the less willpower we need. The less willpower we need, the less energy spent on it. The less energy we spend on self-control, the more energy we have. Eventually, we will find it easier to do the tasks we previously think difficult.

Study Cases

The one when you cannot get out of bed

Photo by Alexander Possingham on Unsplash

Our bed indeed has an enormous pull in the morning. When the alarm rings, we snooze it and do it again, and again, and again, until we freaked out when looking at the clock.

Instead of shaming and berating ourselves, we can shape our environment to help us.

Try putting your alarm in hard-to-reach places: on your desk, in the living room, or under your bed. This way, you need to put extra effort to turn off the alarm. When you put more effort into it, you will feel more awake, and it is easier to stay awake.

The one when you don’t want to exercise

Photo by Cris Saur on Unsplash

I want to share my experience when I tried to do pull-ups every day.

If I wanted to do pull-ups, I needed to go to the gym or public park. You know how demanding it is. Over time, I just forgot about it.

I decided to purchase a detachable pull-up bar right at my door. The result? I do pull-ups every day. Every time I walk by my door, I see my pull-up bar. I would do some hanging or a few pull-ups at one point in a day, and I do it without thinking about it; I don’t need the willpower to do it, anymore.

I don’t think this one exercise is sufficient, but you get the idea.

The one when you can’t lose weight

Photo by Olia Nayda on Unsplash

You decide you want to lose weight. Today, you see your cookies and chips, and you say, “you are evil.” The next day, you start to miss them. The next one, you relapse.

This vicious cycle is so predictable.

What can you do? Throw them away. When you don’t have cookies, you can’t eat cookies. No willpower is needed.


I can go on and on to show you more examples of how changing your environment is a quick and effective way to trick your brain into doing hard things. I hope you get the idea.

Whether willpower is real or not, we cannot rely on our self-control alone. There are just times when we want to slack off. All we need is just a gentle push from the outside.

Don’t feel bad about having low willpower; your environment might be the culprit.

A simple person who loves philosophy, good food, and dogs. I write articles on communication, self-help, and occasional coding stuff. A HUGE F.R.I.E.N.D.S fans.

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