The Problem with Willpower

Willpower isn’t enough when making changes in your life. Willpower is a function of our conscious mind. Our conscious mind is no match for the power of our subconscious conditioning.

Experts say an average of 90% of our mind is unconscious, and only about 10% of our mind is conscious.

This is probably what gave rise to the myth that people only use about 10% of their brains. In truth, we use our whole brains, just not all at once. Different parts of the brain activate at different times depending on what you’re thinking and doing etc.

So, only 10% of the mind is conscious. Will power is a function of our conscious mind, along with the rest of our analytical and rational abilities.

Because willpower is entirely conscious, even fully committed, it can be overwhelmed by the vast power of the subconscious mind. The subconscious mind is bigger, faster and more powerful. Period.

The following shows some ways the subconscious can be triggered to overcome the conscious mind.

H.A.L.T. The W.A.R.









The point I’m making is that using willpower alone when trying to make change will have you struggling more than you really need to struggle.

To really change your behaviours you need the awareness to notice your triggers, and conditioned responses.

Learn to Harness Pleasure and Pain

Ultimately, you need to associate your unwanted behaviour or habit with pain, and your desired behaviour or habit with pleasure. This will make sustaining your desired behaviour more automatic.

In other words, you can choose your associations. This will help you make change faster with less struggle.

How can someone make change swiftly and powerfully? The indomitable Tony Robbins outlines the following 3 steps:

  1. Get leverage on yourself
  2. Interrupt the pattern
  3. Suggest the desired trait

Your Internal World Is Powerful

Learn to notice the stories you tell yourself in your head. We always have an internal dialog and pictures that we make.

Normally this happens outside of our awareness. Unfortunately, the way we use our imaginations is not always resourceful, or constructive.

Have you ever imagined really giving someone a piece of your mind? Have you ever imagined that people were talking about you, only to discover that they weren’t?

In our minds, we tend to default to negative thoughts in an attempt to anticipate and avoid pain.

Unfortunately, this survival mechanism conditions us to use our imaginations to picture the worst case scenario, or some painful future experience. Playing these scenarios in your mind does not serve you.

So, why do we do it?

Negativity Bias

Our brains are biologically and biochemically wired to detect and respond to threats. There’s a negativity bias wired into us to seek out potential threats.

Once upon a time, human ancestors found this trait vital to survival. Now, our bodies go into fight or flight response, even when we are not directly threatened, and our survival is not at stake.

We respond to perception more than reality. We need only to perceive a threat to be thrown into a fear response.

Why do I say all this?

If your brain is wired this way, then there’s nothing you can do, right?



Discoveries about the brain in the last 45 years or so have really advanced our understanding. Once it was believed brains were “set” after developing to adulthood. It was also believed that people were born with a limited number of brain cells that could not regenerate.

When I was young, comments like, “Well, there go a few more brain cells,” would be common enough after a wild party. This underscored the belief that brain cells were finite, and did not regenerate.

It never did make sense to me because all the other cells in the body can replicate. Why would brain cells be different? However, that’s what I was taught in school.

More recently, scientists discovered that brain cells do, in fact, regenerate. Not only do brain cells regenerate, but the connections in the brain are not “set” or “hard-wired” as people once thought.

The brain has the ability to change.

This ability to change is known as “neuroplasticity” neuro – refers to the brain, and “plasticity” means its changeable or “plastic.”

This is excellent news because we can work on developing and changing our brains. In fact, every thing we learn and every new experience creates new connections in the brain.

Use Your Imagination for Good

Knowing all this, we can deploy our imaginations for our betterment. Creative visualizations powerfully rewire the brain because the brain can’t tell the difference between what it sees, a memory, or a detailed creative visualization.

Imagine, if you will, using your imagination, and your internal dialog and pictures, in a constructive way. You can use your imagination as a force for your own good. In fact, your imagination will do more to change your life for the better than willpower ever can.

Consider the following questions:

  • What outcome do you intend?
  • What if everything goes right?
  • What do you really want?

Questions like these trigger resourceful associations in your mind.

Then, the task is to picture the ideal outcome. Now, when I say picture the ideal outcome, I mean in full. See it, smell it, feel it hear it – use all your senses to really get into it. Imagine picturing your ideal outcome as if your were experiencing it through your own eyes, fully associated and present in the experience.

The details and the feelings are what will make this work. Remember, if we want to hit a target, we need to know where to aim. Visualization is like programming a GPS, it tells your mind where you want to go, and your mind WILL help you get there.

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