• Cindy Saunders | Leaders Rise

The Truth About Habits and Willpower

Updated: Dec 19, 2020

It’s hard to keep up willpower for any length of time. Sure, we can stick to a low-fat 1,000 calorie diet and go hungry for a week or two, but eventually, our willpower fades. And yes, we can do exercise we hate for a while... until we run out of willpower.

But what about getting up to take the kids to school every morning, brushing our teeth, or going to work every day. Those may not be our favorite things to do either, but we do them daily without the risk of running out of willpower. That’s because they have become habits. They are so ingrained in what we do and who we are that we do them without even considering skipping a day or a week. We don’t have to make a conscious decision each day to shower or drive to work. It’s just what we do – a habit.

When you think about it, there is an inverse relationship between habits and willpower. When you first want to build a new habit, it takes a lot of will power to get it done day in and day out. As you start to establish that habit, it becomes easier and easier to do until you don’t even have to think about it anymore.

Photo by Jack Gisel on Unsplash


While we’re in that transition from willpower to habit, we can use any number of tools to make it easier.

  • Use a to-do list or set a reminder to help stay on track.

  • Find an accountability partner so the two of you can motivate each other and help bolster that willpower when it starts to fade after the first enthusiasm wears off.

  • Even something as simple as laying out your running clothes the night before and keeping your sneakers by the door will make it a little easier to go out for that run.

  • It's helpful to stack your habits. Schedule them together and execute them together. At the least, if you start the first one and know what is next, you're more likely to accomplish all of them.

In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear describes these four laws of changing habits:


Make it obvious

Before we can build new habits, we need to get a handle on our current ones. If a habit remains mindless, you can't expect to improve it.


Make it attractive

The key takeaway here is that dopamine is released not only when you experience pleasure but also when you anticipate it. The strategy is to pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do.


Make it easy

If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection. You just need to get your reps in.


Make it satisfying

We are more likely to repeat a behavior when the experience is satisfying. Making it satisfying increases the odds that the behavior will be repeated next time.

What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.

Do what you can to help your willpower along until you have made the new behavior a true habit. After that, it’ll become automatic and a new lifelong habit.


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*Here is a link to Atomic Habits. It's bursting with powerful information!

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