Why Willpower Doesn’t Work – And What Does - Jane Travis - Self Care for Busy Women
Why willpower doesn't work - Jane Travis

Why Willpower Doesn’t Work – And What Does

The elation I felt driving past the gym was short lived.  So was the delight I felt ordering my takeaway.  

Once again, my willpower had failed me.  The new me - the slimmer, fitter, stronger and more in control one - had lasted a grand total of two and a half days, and ended in spectacular fashion.

And with a full tummy and a clean gym kit taunting me, I felt bad.  Guilty, weak, a failure.  

Does that sound at all familiar?  

Well I have some good news for you - it's not your fault!  Willpower is rubbish and simply doesn't work for the vast majority of people. ​

If your good intentions frequently turn into ‘I’ll do it tomorrow's' or half finished projects, then I have a secret to share with you...


I know someone - let's call her Flossie

She has piles of paperwork all over her kitchen worktops, dining room table and coffee table.

She took advice from organisation blogs on Pinterest and now also has piles of:

  • Things to give to charity
  • Things to sell on eBay
  • Things to give to friends
  • Things to take to the dump

​also cluttering up the place.  <sigh>

But because it’s been going on for longer that she’s prepared to admit, she feels overwhelmed by the amount of work facing her, and pretty miserable about the situation.

However Flossie isn’t daft. She also read that it’s a good idea to break things down into manageable chunks, and do 20 mins de-cluttering every day which is totally doable, so she commits to this.

Brilliant.  Sorted.  Excellent. 

Until Flossie has the day from hell

Her boss (who’s the bitch queen from hell) has been on her case all day, the printer decided yet again to have an emotional breakdown and her plans to meet a friend later have been cancelled. And what’s that? Brilliant! Her throat feels sore and her head starts to ache.

She arrives home. She looks around. The last thing she wants to do is start the housework.

Let's pause this story here for a moment​

What is Willpower?

Willpower is the ability to control ourselves.  (​I hate the word 'control', don't you?)

Having willpower feels like it is something we either have or haven’t got, almost like having blue eyes, or the ability to roll your tongue.

And if we decide we don’t have it, then we have the perfect excuse to not achieve things we say we want to. Like giving up smoking.  Or losing weight.  

Curse you, willpower!!  <<shakes fist in air>>

If we don't control ourselves, there's the voice that tells you that you are weak, pathetic, a failure. That you can't do ANYTHING.  

I don't like anything that has the power to make us feel bad about ourselves.  So let's dump willpower once and for all.

I know a secret, and because you are my friend I am going to share it with you.  

​What Is Choice power?

Willpower has a twin.  And if willpower is the evil twin with horns and an evil grin, choice power is the benevolent one and your new BFF

While willpower whispers in your ear that you are weak and can't resist temptation, choice power knows that you are human, not perfect and helps you make decisions based on what you want and need. 

​Willpower 'You must not, under any circumstances!!!!

Choice power ​'What do I really need right now?'

Willpower - 'Well I've blown it now, I might as well just not bother

Choice power - 'I really needed that little break, now I'm ready to continue with XXX'

This works with everything - saving money, housework, exercise, weight, men (although men, of course, are a completely separate category.  Bless em)

Let's get back to Flossie and see how this works in her case.

​1.  What do you want?

To have a tidy, clutter free and pleasant environment to live in​

​2.  Why do you want it?

  • I no longer feel able to relax at home
  • I feel overwhelmed by my clutter and mess
  • I am embarrassed to have friends over to visit
  • I feel stressed and unhappy

3.  How does it feel when your house is tidy?

​I feel relaxed, calm, in control, comfortable.  It feels like I'm caring for myself, reduces self criticism and I feel a sense of freedom

4.  How does it feel when your house is a mess?

I feel overwhelmed, ​embarrassed, out of control, tense, anxious, unhappy.  I also feel lazy, which I know I am not really but my environment doesn't reflect this.  

5.  What is most important to you right now?

Everything taken into account, what ​is most important to you RIGHT NOW.   

It may be that after your horrid day all you want/need is to snuggle under a duvet.  

However it may be that self care involves taking 15 minutes to straighten up, giving you a pleasant space in which to relax, recharge and feel better.

6.  Permission

​Now you have decided what you want and need, give yourself permission to do it, whatever feels best for you. There is no right or wrong, only what is right for YOU, RIGHT NOW in this moment.

Do what you have chosen to do without recrimination or criticism.  

This is self care.  

Self care doesn't just consist of a monthly massage, nice though that is.  It consists of listening to yourself, to your body and meeting the needs that currently present themselves to you.

Self care consists of listening to yourself & your body, & meeting the needs that currently present themselves to you

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You have made your choice, weighing up all options.  You're doing what is needed to look after yourself.  You made your choice, now stick with it.  

Tomorrow, you will make new choices.   

It doesn't matter how slow you go, as long as you don't stop - Jane Travis

By ditching willpower and and adopting choice power you are taking back control.  You are meeting your needs and looking after yourself.  

Also you don't lose sight of the 'big picture'​.  Deviating from the plan doesn't mean you have failed, it just means you have chosen self care over self criticism.  

Which is just perfect!​

About the Author Jane Travis

Hi, I'm Jane, and if you're the one that cares for and supports others, that gives and never takes and are exhausted because you put your own needs last, then you're in the right place. It's great to have you here - I hope you stick around!

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