Willpower Isn’t the Answer: Why Knowing Yourself Outdoes Discipline

Willpower Isn’t the Answer: Why Knowing Yourself Outdoes Discipline

We’ve all been there. You are trying to establish a new routine that you are really excited about. Maybe you’ve decided to go to the gym every day, or meditate regularly, or get 8 hours of sleep every night. You start off strong, and do what you set out to do. And then between week 2 and 3, other things get in the way. Your willpower starts to wane and your new routine doesn’t become the habit that you envisioned.

You are not alone. Willpower will only take you so far. The more stubborn you are the further it will take you, but it isn’t sustainable to rely on will alone.

What is Willpower?

According to an American Psychological Association article from 2012, Willpower is defined as the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long term goals. “We have many common names for willpower: determination, drive, resolve, self-discipline, self-control. But psychologists characterize willpower, or self-control, in more specific ways. According to most psychological scientists, willpower can be defined as:

  • The ability to delay gratification, resisting short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals
  • The capacity to override an unwanted thought, feeling, or impulse
  • The ability to employ a “cool” cognitive system of behavior rather than a “hot” emotional system
  • Conscious, effortful regulation of the self by the self
  • A limited resource capable of being depleted”

“A limited resource capable of being depleted.” That really says it all. That is why when you start a new habit, willpower can’t be your only resource. Eventually it runs out and then you are on your own. That’s when you need to find other tools to keep you on track.


Understanding yourself and how you work will hugely benefit you in staying true to the intentions that you set. If you know you work better on your own, you can set up notifications in your phone as little reminders. Maybe there is an app you can download to support you in your goals. I have a notification that goes off every night to remind be to turn off my phone and go to sleep. My nighttime doom scrolling has significantly diminished and I am sleeping more soundly than I was.

Maybe you know you work better with community support or an accountability partner. Having a “partner in crime” can help you accomplish what you set out to do. Text a friend every day and meditate for 5 minutes at the same time. Knowing that they are doing what you are doing at that moment can help you stick with that habit.

Ask yourself why you want to accomplish the goal that you set. If you want to lose 10 lbs, are you doing it because someone else said you should or is it because you feel better in a smaller frame? Maybe it takes the pressure off your joints. If there is an internal reason for you wanting to accomplish this goal, you are more likely to stick with it. If you are following someone else’s “should,” that is often not sustainable.

Finding your internal motivation is key to success. Maybe you are struggling to go to bed on time and get a good night’s sleep (like I was). You feel tired all the time and your brain feels foggy. Not wanting to feel like this can be good motivation to get to sleep earlier. Someone telling you that you “should” go to sleep earlier might not be.

The Shame Piece

Shame is not a good motivator. Period. When you are stuck in a shame spiral, you shrink, you feel small, and just want to isolate yourself. This is not the place from where movement happens. Coaches yelling at players and telling them how much they suck will not get them to play better, it will make them feel worse about themselves and their skills. The thing that eliminates shame is empathy. Here is some wisdom from my favorite shame researcher, Brene Brown:

“If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three ingredients to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in the petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.”
“Shame is that warm feeling that washes over us, making us feel small, flawed, and never good enough.”
“Empathy is connecting with people so we know we’re not alone when we’re in struggle.”
"Shame is that warm feeling that washes over us, making us feel small, flawed, and never good enough." ~Brene Brown

Empathy is not just connecting with other people, it is also connecting to yourself. When you can show yourself empathy, acknowledge that you are not the only human struggling, feeling that shared humanity can ease the shame. If you are feeling not good enough or not deserving to do something positive for yourself, you are not alone. Stepping away from shame by dousing yourself with empathy, can be a powerful way to move yourself forward toward your goals.

Building Habits and Receiving Support

Asking for help hasn’t always been one of my superpowers, but it is now. Letting go of perfectionism and the cage that it kept me in allows me to be comfortable with not knowing. When I don’t know something, I can look it up or I can now ask for help. This allows me to then grow and thrive. When it comes to building new habits, sometimes you need support from someone who has been where you are. Finding a teacher, a mentor, or a guide can give you the accountability you need to move forward toward your goals.

Asking for help and receiving support can also give you a blueprint, a map to follow to get you where you are going. It’s hard to know what you don’t know. When you are trying to do something new, having some sort of map helps.

Coming up at Purple Room Yoga!

Intentional Eating: Finding Peace and Balance with Your Relationship to Food starts Tuesday, November 7th! Let go of shame and improve your relationship with food and yourself in this 6 week online program. Click here to learn more or to sign up! Limited to 5 people.

Strength and Balance for Beginners Over 50 is happening November 10-12, free in the Facebook Group! Join the group for free access to this special weekend, and more! Strength from the Core, From Mountain to Tree, Body Strength, and Shift and Move are the 4 free classes happening that weekend, all geared toward helping adults over 50 begin their yoga journey to increase strength and balance. Is that you? Click here to join!

Join this warm, welcoming, non-judgmental online community! Take weekly yoga, meditation, stretch, and mindful core classes for people over 50 if you want to improve their strength, balance, mobility, and feel more emotionally grounded on a daily basis. the full schedule of online classes here and the on demand library here. Click here to get the weekly newsletter and be the first to hear about courses, retreats, workshops, and more!

Leave a Reply