5 Myths About Willpower - Kris Vallotton

November 14, 2015

Guest Post by Jason Vallotton

Recently, while wandering my way through the day, I caught myself in the middle of a thought, “I wish I had more willpower!” I sat on my couch as the seconds ticked by a bit taken back by my desire. I’ve always seen myself as a champion of willpower, someone who willed his way through hell and back. And yet, the more I examined my current status in life, the clearer it became to me that somewhere between my past and present, I must have let slip what I once prided myself in, or there’s more to understand about the will than what I was currently aware of. All I knew for sure is that the distance between where I want to be, and where I was, felt daunting at best…

In my quest to unlock the mystery of the will, I felt it most appropriate to start at square one: Google. My question sounded something like this: “Dear Google, how do I harness the power of the will? Sincerely yours, Jason Vallotton!” After suffering my way through what seemed like hours of new-age self-help threads, I finally ran into a Ted Talk called “The Science of Willpower” by Kelly McGonigal. Kelly is a health psychologist who is known for her work in the field of “science help”.  She received a B.A. in Psychology and a B.S. in Mass Communication from Boston University, and her PhD from Stanford University, where she is a lecturer in undergraduate psychology, as well as teaching a public course on willpower.

In her talk “The Science of Will Power,” Kelly explains 5 myths that we all believe about willpower that I think we can benefit from. As you explore each myth, take some time to identify any areas in your life that may need adjusting. Also, I would challenge you to partner scripture with Kelly’s teaching. I’ll pair scripture with the first misconception about the will so you have an idea of what to do with the rest…

1. We mistake the gratification of fulfilling a desire for the feeling of happiness.

Most often, the things in our life that we chase because we “think” they will bring happiness, lead to addiction or dissatisfaction. A great example of this is our food intake. In Adults Age 20 and Older, more than two-thirds (68.8 percent) of adults are considered to be overweight or obese. More than one-third(35.7 percent) of adults are considered to be obese. More than 1 in 20 (6.3 percent) have extreme obesity.

The parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 is a perfect example of this myth. There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate,’ so the father divided his property between them. Shortly thereafter we see the younger son binging away his inheritance on his worldly desires, only to be left eating with the pigs just a few verses later. The Bible tells us that after the boy “came to his senses”, he returned home in hopes of escaping the desperate life he was living.

The momentary pleasure of indulgence is literally leading us into intense poverty. When we trade instant gratification for long-term fulfillment, our body, soul and spirit are left to feast with the pigs, just like the prodigal son. It’s up to each and every one of us to manage our own desires, making sure they line up with the Father’s desires. When we partner our will with heaven, the prosperity that He has promised us will become the reality that we live in!

2. Willpower is a measure of our virtue.

When we are being very focused or getting things done, it’s because we are a “good person.” Yet, when we procrastinate or fail to get things done we are bad.

Our ability to use our willpower is less about whether we are good or bad; willpower is the ability to do what really matters to us, the things that allow our long and short-term goals to happen. Willpower is best thought of as a muscle. Your brain and your body need to work together to help you remember your goals, focus your attention, override your impulses and manage stress. Your brain and your body get better at these things as you intentionally practice them.

3. You can use guilt and shame as motivation.

Science shows us that the more guilty and shameful you are after failing will determine how long it takes you to recover from a mistake, and also how apt you are to repeat that same behavior. The more guilt, the longer the recovery time and the more likely you are to repeat the same mistake. This is due to the fact that the things that we feel most guilty and ashamed about, often times are the things that we turn to for comfort when we are not doing well.

In order to counteract this nasty cycle of guilt and shame, stop for a minute, find self-compassion and forgive yourself! Not only will you feel better in the moment, but the faster you are to forgive, the quicker you will be to remember your goals and recover.

4. We need to change what is inside of us before we can make a real lasting change in our actions or behavior.

If you wait until you feel like working out to go to the gym, you will probably never make it there! In fact, the more you try to make yourself want to do the thing that your not motivated to do, the harder it becomes. Instead, accept the fact that you don’t “feel” like doing it, and allow yourself to be ok in the discomfort, while choosing to take steps toward your goal. We have to learn how to handle the stress that comes from not wanting to do something while we move forward.

5. There is something uniquely wrong with me because I struggle motivating myself.

The truth is that all human beings at one point or another find themselves struggling with their will. The fact that you are in a battle makes you normal, not abnormal. Your challenge is to figure out how to find support for yourself and others through this journey.

For most of us, this last myth probably poses the biggest challenge. It is only in the midst of true intimacy where we dare expose our deepest thoughts that we find we are not alone. It is in this place that we not only gain support in our present condition, but in community we are championed forward!

What are the areas in your life regarding willpower that might need adjusting? Let me know in the comments below.

Jason Vallotton is the Pastoral Care Overseer at Bethel Redding and currently serves on the Bethel Core Team and on the board of Moral Revolution. He is a sought-after counselor and speaker. He’s author of The Supernatural Power of Forgiveness and co-author of Moral Revolution and Outrageous Courage.


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