Your Willpower Sucks, Do This Instead

Lori Moulton
6 min readJan 5, 2022
Photos by Pexels for Canva

Why willpower doesn’t work

You start the year with great intentions and motivations to finally eat healthy, to finally stop scrolling on social media so often, to finally stop drinking so much alcohol, but you just can’t stay motivated. You get angry with yourself, thinking, “I should have more willpower than this!”. It’s so frustrating!

The thing is, willpower doesn’t really work. Your subconscious mind is in the habit of doing things the way you always do them. It likes it that way. That way feels safe. Any change has the potential to create danger, as far as your subconscious is concerned. Most of your habits are completed mindlessly, through this 90% of your brain that you use without much conscious recognition. You drive home from work on the same route without thinking. You put your keys on the same hook when you get home. You plop down on the couch to watch the same TV shows. It takes a lot of effort to change these old thought processes. When you take on huge changes all at once, your conscious mind has to work extremely hard. It takes a lot of mental effort, so eventually, you give up.

Make tiny changes instead

If you want to make real, lasting changes, you need to take tiny steps. In his book (which I highly recommend), Atomic Habits, James Clear says to break new habits down into the tiniest steps. For example, to start a new exercise routine, he says to break it down to the very basics, like where will you work out?, what time of day?, etc. Clear says that even something as simple as not planning for how you will get water during your workout can derail your new habit. He says to start with getting up and getting dressed for the gym, but don’t exercise yet. After a few days of getting dressed for the gym, drive to the gym. What route will you take? Next, you will work out for five minutes for a few days. Then, add a few minutes, until you are finally working out the full time.

You will also want to try just one new change at a time. If you try too many new things at once, there is a high chance you will become overwhelmed. Try one of these tiny changes:

To eat healthier — add 1 fruit or vegetable to every meal
To start a morning routine — wake up 10 minutes earlier to stretch or read a…

Lori Moulton

Certified Transformational Coach, Masters in School Counseling, Teacher, helping others heal from emotionally abusive relationships and build self-love..