“But I Don’t Have Any Willpower!”

We all love success. We want to succeed ourselves, and we usually enjoy it when others succeed–unless it is in direct competition to us (but that is another blog in the future). Health educators love success also, but rarely get to witness it long-term! We can deliver the most creative and interesting lifestyle interventions delivered with wonderful passion and care–only to learn a year later (or less) that most of our class has gone back to their old habits. 

“But I don’t have any willpower,” is the most common reason I am told for not sticking with new habits. It may be expressed as “I can’t win for losing,” or “There is nothing I can do about it.” The bottom line is that the hardest challenge any of us face (myself included) is to change–eat less, exercise regularly, think more positively, etc.

On the face it seems so simple. Just make consistently good choices! Success will come. Yet, without exercising willpower, we will never make those choices. What is willpower? Wikipedia defines it this way: “Willpower is the ability to exert one’s will over one’s actions. Willpower manifests an inner firmness, decisiveness, determination, resolution and persistence.”

That sounds really simple, doesn’t it? Only when we attempt to exert our will over our actions do we discover how hard it is–and how weak our will really is!

Paul described this dilemma so well in Romans 7:15, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.”

Maybe there are a few humans who “manifest an inner firmness, decisiveness, determination, resolution and persistence.” I would posit that even those with the apparently strongest wills have their weaknesses also. We are all human and struggle at some level with the same inability to do what we really want to do.

To learn the secret of successful change perhaps we need to examine the word willpower more carefully. The term is made up of two common words, “will” and “power.” Could it be we are missing the “power” to exert our wills? When we try to make good changes we often experience a “power” failure? Too often I wish for change, but don’t have the power to act on my choices!

God has not left us to muddle around in our weaknesses, though. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:13, “It is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” It is our will combined with His power that makes permanent lifestyle change possible. The good news is that God will add His all-powerful will to our feeble good choices so we can overcome our weaknesses!