You Need Less Willpower Than You Think

I used to believe I had a whole lot more willpower than I do. That sticking to a diet simply meant resolving to stick with it. That if I truly wanted to lose weight, I wouldn’t eat a dozen cookies in one sitting while watching Rick & Morty. Oh no, not me. With the right amount of willpower, I would portion them out and make them last a week—two even! Because I had goals, right?

But you know the story. Whatever good intentions you may have had when you walk into the grocery store go out the window when it’s late, you’ve had a long day, you’re hangry, or when the tv goes on and the first cookie tastes REALLY good.

Whether you’re trying to lose weight, get your financial shit together, or quit making drunk Amazon orders, starting or breaking a habit doesn’t just rely on changing your actions.

You’re still going to crave eating the same terrible food that got you fat, you’re still going to put off budgeting or starting that retirement account, and you’re still going to hear the siren call of one-click shopping from the consumerist hurricane that is amazon.

And before that happens, if you don’t make changes to your environment, you’re going to crumble in the face of temptation.

We ALL like to believe that we have a whole lot more willpower than we do, but it’s not willpower that’s going to carry you to success. Even the strongest among us will still crack eventually if we’re continually bombarded by temptation.

That being the case, the best possible actions you can take to control your environment are preventative ones, to remove the temptations before they’re even in front of you, or to place blockades in front of you to make breaking your habit harder than it was before.

Controlling your environment looks like: keeping junk food out of your house, automatic deposits to a savings account, or a setting up a website blocker during certain hours on your browser.

Controlling your environment also means choosing the people that you surround yourself with, to the extent that you can. If your journey to change involves other people, identify your enemies and your allies.

If you have friends or family members that support your efforts, those are your allies. Those that deride your choices, pressure you into ones you don’t want to make, or tease you for changing, are more challenges in your environment to overcome. They’re pissing in your gas tank. Avoid them at all costs.

Here’s why your environment is more important than you think:

Individuals with high self-control, are not actually better at saying no to temptations, they are better at avoiding them. [link]

Meaning whether or not you succeed at behavior change does NOT depend on how much willpower you have; it depends on how skillful you are at changing your environment.

Even better, it means if you believe you were born with a certain level of self-control that can’t be modified, you’re wrong. When you can learn how to manipulate aspects of the world around you, you will develop greater self-control.

"Willpower is a limited resource" used to be a popular idea, and self-help articles would preach conservation of willpower. However, new research came out several years ago that challenges that idea. But it doesn’t even matter whether or not it’s a limited resource, because if you can get better at controlling your environment, you’ll inevitably need less willpower.

Think about what you want to change, and what gets in your way. Often, you’re in control of more than you think. Stop becoming a victim to your circumstances, and start making the decisions that will lead to your success—starting with who and what you surround yourself with.