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  • by Jaclyn Foster

True Power Over Willpower

It’s a wonderful feeling to know we followed through on something we value that has importance to us. To hit a health goal. To learn a new skill. To make a career move. To be in a loving and fulfilling relationship.

What’s funny too, is that often once we hit a goal or make a change it can feel surreal. It’s like, did I really do that? Like it hit a point where you knew it was so possible that you weren’t having to fight for it anymore and suddenly, it happened.

I noticed this on my weight loss journey. For years I desperately tried to make changes, but when I finally gave up the fight and I sunk into the journey and why it mattered, it was easier to make the change and before I knew it, I was at my goal weight.

Maybe you also notice that goals you aren’t as emotionally attached to are easier to attain and those that feel full of force are always out of your grasp.

So, what gets us to that point of flow? Here are a few considerations to loosen the grip of willpower and take action from an inspired and desire-filled place.

Knowing Your Values

I bet most of us can agree that operating from a place of willpower doesn’t feel good. I imagine the thought of using willpower may have associations for you with things like it being hard, full of obligation, and requiring internal pressure to maintain. All things that increase a sense of stress in our minds and our bodies.

And on top of that, this type of relating to ourselves doesn’t give us anything to sink our teeth into in terms of how our actions would matter to us and the larger picture of what we value.

Willpower keeps us grasping for straws and often in a cycle of spinning our wheels pushing ourselves and then tiring out and giving up, just to regroup enough to put in another push.

An excellent way to shift this focus is to start putting our attention on what values our goals align with.

This can start with asking questions like:

  • What’s important to me already that meeting this goal would support?

  • What do I value that this goal would align with?

For me, health is a top value so making certain food choices feels like a no brainer. When I’m thinking about what I want to eat or include in my day for movement I’ll consider: What choice supports my value of health?

In the beginning when this change was new for me, I did this often and especially when I noticed I felt urgency. I would slow myself and ask, “Which choice aligns with my goal of living a healthy life?” It would give me a pause to consider my motives.

Other values could be family, legacy, or longevity. Or perhaps: contribution, independence, self-reliance, or sustainability. Knowing that you can see a larger vision you want to be a part of in the future can inspire new action and can prompt curiosity around all the different choices you could make to support that value.

Taking the “This and That” Approach

Now, I am not saying embrace your value of health and longevity and ignore the other needs that come up! That would just cycle you back into willpower.

What I’m suggesting is that instead of a “this or that” mentality, that you can embrace a “this and that” perspective. For example, maybe you recognize that you care about health, but you also have a need for ease kicking in. Trying to push yourself to meet only one need will lead to internal struggle.

And what’s important to note is that some of the needs and values you have coming up aren’t tangible ones. We just mentioned ease, but you also have needs for things like acknowledgment, safety, appreciation, and acceptance. Many of us are taught in spoken and unspoken ways to aspire for more, in hopes that those needs will maybe be met from our efforts, some day!

The takeaway from this is, get curious about why you are telling yourself you need to do more now to get a specific result. What are you hoping would be on the others side of your effort? What would you receive, that is tangible or intangible?

It’s Coming… And You’ve Got This

If you are reading this and rationally thinking, okay I get it. But then you find yourself getting sucked back into reacting from a place of urgency, that is normal and to be expected.

A normal part of the change process is that we take an action that feels right and expansive, but then we have moments of contraction. Let me explain. If you are using willpower and force, chances are it has been happening for a while. You’ve learned to react quickly and urgently and on some level you do it thinking it will support your survival.

We are amazing and adaptive creatures who learn to adjust to our environments. When we are children, we can end up adjusting physically and emotionally to be accepted and get along in our family and community environments at the expense of certain needs and feelings. We don’t think consciously about it, we just do it. This is why as adults, if we learned to “power through”, or saw that modeled to us, we don’t question it – we do it too.

This could look like: “Don’t cry about it, we don’t have time for that,” or “Don’t make a big deal, you have plenty,” and “You are okay, it’s not a big deal.” The many variations of this voice send the message, “Get over it and just move forward.”

This is why when we start to slow down, it can provide relief, but on some level it can feel wrong and we can revert back to old habits.

But we aren’t machines. We are humans, and part of being human is that we have emotions and needs. We are impacted by our experiences. All this means that in order to use willpower we must repress certain parts of ourselves, which will end up feeling bad sooner or later.

What I invite you to read in these words is that using willpower, is a learned strategy, and one that is not sustainable as a long-term strategy. Take time to get curious about whether it’s really serving you anymore to reach your goals.

It did serve you for a while, because you did it (so you must have had a reason!), and that’s amazing because it kept you alive and provided for. But you also have the choice now to meet your needs and explore your goals and values in new ways now and start giving attention those needs now, regardless of how far you’ve made it towards your goal.

Know that in that process, if this article resonates, you will experience some internal or external kick back, a reinforcement that force is the way and it served a purpose in your life. When it does, see if one of these prompts supports you in interrupting the cycle:

  • I can choose differently now, urgency isn’t giving me the outcome I’m looking for now as an adult.

  • It’s safe to make a new choice now.

  • What am I telling myself I will receive if keep pushing forward and using willpower?

  • Bonus questions: How can I meet that need now in new ways I can control?

  • What do I value that is a rock for me to make new choices with a future vision in mind?

You have permission to slow down, to exhale, to make new choices and every new awareness matters. You’ve got this.

Would you like some additional support? You are not alone, and change takes time! It’s a practice and often it can greatly benefit to reach out for support of a coach, therapist, friend, or mentor.

If you are a Whole Health Plan Member, the Medical & Wellness Centers located in Austin, Texas and Glendale, California are available for support. Give us a call.

If you are Whole Health Plan member and have not established care with the Center for your primary care services, call us to make an appointment or learn more about the benefits available to you as a patient of the Center.

You can explore our website to learn more about us as well.

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