When Willpower Is Not Enough

It was all going so well — my commitment to run at least ten miles every week lasted four weeks. Then, life happened. I could write each reason why I didn’t, couldn’t, meet my quota last week, but it’d just be to make myself feel better. The truth is, I broke my promise, my willpower wasn’t enough.

Every setback is a learning opportunity. This little derailment is really just a small blip in the grander scheme of things. What could I have done better? I’ve collected a few ideas for you.

More Structure Will Set You Free

I was listening to On Being last week, one of my favorite podcasts. The host, Krista was interviewing Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, about the modern role of religion. The nugget that stuck with me from the conversation was this concept of a regular practice.

Whether it’s Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or every day, religion provides people with a structure for life — a sort of guiding principles. Regardless of what you believe, there’s tremendous value to be found in having some sacred routines.

Take for example, bowling. When you first learn how to bowl, you need bumpers. Otherwise, every other bowl would be a gutter ball. Eventually, as you get more accurate, you start relying less on the bumpers, until eventually, you can just knock the pins down every time.

Although I just compared life to bowling, the takeaway is that creating boundaries can be a very helpful and liberating process. It provides the opportunity to improve your accuracy, focus your attention on what’s important, and ultimately become a better version of yourself.

The Brutal Truth

Figuring out which boundaries to create for yourself is a different challenge. It requires that you be brutally honest with yourself. Take a judgement-free inventory of your weaknesses. In my case, I realized I needed to plan my schedule better, so life doesn’t “get in the way” like it did last week.

Consider this great read on prioritization. Facebook Product Design Director, Geoff Teehan writes about his recent move from Toronto to San Francisco, while being a young father, and balancing work with life. His solution and suggestion is to “ruthlessly prioritize”.

Why does it work so well? Prioritizing forces you to make decisions, which means adding in some structure and boundaries. With every choice, your range of possibilities shrinks, making each subsequent choice easier.


It’s okay if your willpower isn’t always enough, so long as you know your willpower isn’t enough. To supplement, consider adding more structure and support as guides towards your goals. You don’t have to avoid your weak points. No need to judge or compare. Just be honest. Nobody’s perfect, and you’re only fooling yourself if you think that you can fool everyone else. The world doesn’t need your perfection, it needs your authenticity.

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