• Jackie Lede

Why willpower doesn’t work

Willpower is a big subject in my line of work, the debate on whether this approach works as a means of reaching our goals. I have heard many times in my life “just stop doing it” or “be more mentally tough” or “just commit to your goals, think about the long game.”

According to The American Psychological Association, “willpower is 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.”

I think in some short term circumstance’s willpower can work, but most of the time I see people trying to fight their urges to head back to the fridge and eat the cake or skip their work out because they have had a long day at work, and their willpower to follow through on what they want long term, doesn’t work.

I don’t think our complex human brain is that straight forward, and if it was, we would be able to reach all of our goals easily by just “sticking to the plan,” and most of us have experienced the shortcomings of this idea.

Here are a few examples of why willpower doesn’t work:


We can’t beat the signals of what our chemistry is telling us to do. A really great example of this is an addiction. If someone is addicted to sugar, it is not just their thoughts that keep reminding them that they want to eat something sweet, it is the chemistry in their brain that is signalling that it wants more. Sugar targets our pleasure center in our brain, the same way that a hit of cocaine would, and releases the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin which essentially make us feel good. There is no amount of willpower that will stop you from eating sugar if your brain chemistry is constantly signalling you to have more.

Hormone Balance

Our hormones control every bodily process that happens in our body; therefore, the state of our hormones will determine how we feel and can alter our behavior. Statistics show that 80 percent of women have a hormone balance, of which 70 percent of us are unaware. Our hormones control how much energy we have, how much food we eat, how much fat we store, how tired we feel… and the list goes on. If you are trying to fight against a hormone imbalance, you are fighting a losing battle.

Our Subconscious Brain

The job of your subconscious brain is to ensure that everything you say and does fits into a pattern that is consistent with your deep-rooted beliefs. The beliefs that are stored in this part of our brain holds everything we think about ourselves, the world, food, our relationship to health, and most of the time we are not even conscious of them! Kind of crazy that our brain is programmed to be a certain way that we aren’t aware of, and that this program is running the show behind the scenes. Its job is to keep you consistent with what you have said and done in the past; therefore, willpower alone wouldn’t be able to change these deep-rooted patterns and beliefs, especially when consciously we are not aware of them. A common example of this I see is when someone wants to lose weight, but they have strong negative feelings towards themselves. Our subconscious brain will command that we act in a way that is consistent with these negative feelings, which in this scenario, is often what we call self-sabotage.

The point of this blog is to show you that although you may have really good intentions for meeting your health goals, it is not always that easy. I see people time and time again blaming or being hard on themselves for not being where they want in their life or with their body. It’s not your fault if you keep trying willpower, and you keep falling short. Show yourself a little compassion for being human and use the power of knowledge to learn new ways of creating what you want in your life.

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