In the society we live in today, there is a lot of emphasis on willpower. We are basically judged on our actions independent of any influence. To be fair, a lot of us can agree that there are environmental factors that influence behavior. However, most of the same people will also agree that those influences are secondary to one’s own willpower. Why is that? Why is there so much emphasis in our society on individual will power?
Willpower is a Cop-Out
Blaming people and punishing them has historically been a much simpler solution than anything long term. Someone does something “bad”, just put them in jail and throw away the key. More people do the same bad things? well the answer is simple! Throw them in jail and throw away the key too!
This simply isn’t a long term solution because there are conditions in which aberrant behavior develops from. We see a fat person and automatically judge them for not having enough willpower to stop eating. When in reality, they are no different than anyone else who eats without any diet management plan. Yes, some fat people do eat more than skinny people, but it’s for the same reason bigger kids eat more than smaller kids. They’re just simply bigger and require more calories.
Temptations Become Stronger
How about a poor person who can’t seem to stop stealing? When someone lives in constant scarcity, the consequences of everyday life will put pressure on the person to attempt desperate measures.
There are of course, a lot of poor people who don’t steal, but because of their situation, they are more likely to. forget about stealing. How about finding a bag of money? If you’re a millionaire and you find a bag with a thousand dollars in it, it’s not that difficult for you to return it.
What if you’re broke and struggling to pay the bills? You’ll think twice about turning that bag in……
The Alternative to Willpower
Willpower is a great short term solution. It’s a nice temporary work around until you create a better environment for yourself. Everyone has a bad day, everyone has motivational swings through out the week. If you wake up too late, slept too little or had an argument with your husband, you’re in a vulnerable state. The likely hood for your willpower to temporarily fade increase significantly.
This is why in the eyes of long term consistency, willpower alone is not a great solution to build good habits off of. It’s like building on sand. It seems like an easy way out because you can skill all this structured planning, but realistically speaking, its fundamentally flawed to rely on will power.
Focus on your Environment Instead
Over the years, there have been many psychologists and case studies that create a powerful case for improving your environment.
Here are some examples. If you want to reduce junk food consumption, try putting the food in a hard to reach place away from the TV and living room. If you want to reduce the amount of hours you watch TV and replace them with reading, just take the batteries out of the remote and put a book in the spot where you usually have your TV remote.
Even smaller changes within a system can help ease the amount of energy you use towards maintaining peek willpower. For example, if you want to spend less time scrolling on social media, try turning notification off on your phone and removing your most distracting apps away from your home screen and putting them in a folder somewhere within another folder or something.
Conditions for Meaningful Change
By focusing on manipulating your environment, you’re essentially eliminating all the easy cues that you’re use to getting that influence your bad habits. By manipulating your environment, you can find yourself in a position of having to use less of your willpower to stop yourself. Bad habits will become inconvenient or even unnecessary.
Use willpower if you’d like, but statistics and history prove that it’s not the most effective long term tool for the job!