In our first part of this series we looked at willpower and obedience. We followed up with a second part looking at willpower and hope. In this final article we’ll go back to the beginning and think about the nature of willpower, and how we can use it. If willpower were so easy as “Today I will start/stop *insert goal here*” we’d all be a blazing and unstoppable success in all we tried to achieve. Ideal weight? Easy, all you have to do is willpower it. Want to run 10 miles? Willpower it, no problem. What’s that, you want to be the best in your field (whatever that may be)? You can willpower it into existence, easy peasy lemon squeezy.
Nope – I’m calling shenanigans! Difficult, difficult, lemon difficult, as Toby Wright would say.
Remember, this marshmallow success thing worked because a kid was told you can have one treat now or two later. What would have happened if they had been told “You can have a marshmallow now, or ‘maybe’ two later”? Some people believe a marshmallow in the mouth is worth two on the plate. What about “You can have one now, and it’s 50/50 on whether you can double or nothing later”? What would the result have been then?
Willpower is simply the coming together of obedience and hope. Those who are able to see hope in the world are more likely to achieve their goals because they believe their efforts will be rewarded, but they must follow the path to success. Obedience will help in the short term, but it’s not enough to keep you going and fuel intrinsic motivation. Why do people give up diets after 2 weeks if they don’t see results? Even if you have amazing willpower you won’t keep up with a diet if you don’t see some results, whether it’s a week or six months.
On the other side, hope alone won’t work. You can’t watch Netflix, eat chips all day and get healthy because you are hoping really hard it will happen. You need to be obedient to nutritional guidelines, eat healthy, and exercise. When you begin to see results your hope grows, you are inspired, and your obedience becomes less of a task. You have to be able to believe there is a purpose. Obedience or commitment alone are not the tools for achieving goals. They may get you off the couch, but you have to believe in an end result to keep you going until you hit the 100 mile mark. And that is hope.
Here are today’s three takeaways:
1 – Willpower, in the common understanding of it, is not enough. It may be a great tool to keep you pushing when things get hard, but it isn’t enough to get you to the finish line. It’s a limited resource, don’t rely on it for endurance.
2 – Good things don’t come to those who wait. Good things come to those who create ways to achieve good things. None of these kids waited for the second marshmallow, they devised ways to avoid the temptation, they worked on a plan to achieve their goals. They managed their emotions and their environment.
3 – Endurance is built on hope. The Bible says that “[W]e rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Without hope we cannot, and will not persist. Hope is the lifeblood of the soul.
Once again, I am going to state the obvious. Hope is not something we can create on our own. We rely on people all the time to help us, guide us, support and encourage us to be more than we can be. We need coaches and supporters. Willpower alone will only go so far, and when it fades we need others to help encourage us. This is true for everyone, so my mission for you today is this – Thank the person who encourages you and let them know you appreciate them, and then find someone you can help along their way.
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