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The Pillars of Willpower Part 1


IMG_4337“I know what I need to do, I just need to do it”.

I have spoken those words before, you have spoken those words before, and as a Fitness Practitioner they probably make the list of the top 3 things we most commonly hear from our clients… and it makes complete, resounding sense.

In the simplest form, getting more fit is not all that complicated; eat more fruit, vegetables, and protein; eat less processed calorie dense foods; move more; sit less; exercise vigorously multiple times per week…

It does not take a degree in Exercise Science to know these things..  Yet, if it is so simple, why do so many of us still fail to meet our fitness goals and why is the obesity epidemic one of, if not THE, biggest health crisis our country faces today?

The simple answer is that actually getting people to do those things is really freaking hard.


It all boils down to willpower

That quote at the top of this article speaks to the importance we as human beings place on the concept of “willpower”.

What exactly is this “willpower” that we place so much value in that we allow our sense of self-worth, self-efficacy, and motivation to hinge upon our perception of whether we have “it” or not?

Willpower has many different definitions depending on who you ask, but the simplest one comes from the Meriam Webster dictionary..

“the ability to control oneself; strong determination that allows you to do something difficult”.

With that as our working definition, one simply must have the strength of will to resist the cake staring you in the face at your child’s birthday party, or those tacos on Taco Tuesday at work.  If you have sufficient willpower, you resist the temptation, and if you do not, you give in and eat the damned piece of cake (and a couple of tacos too.. yum).

This is a very comfortable position for us to operate from.  It’s simple, black and white, and allows us to avoid the hard work of digging any deeper into the issue.  Sounds pretty great, huh!?


Not so fast…

Well, we at AFS choose to reject that hypothesis that success is predetermined based solely on the abstract idea of strength of will.

Why can some people exhibit awesome willpower in some aspects of life, but not others?

Why can someone be an amazing mother, employee, or friend, all of which require a very strong sense of self control and determination, yet fail at other areas of their lives such as losing weight, or exercising?

If success or failure was really as simple as an inherent possession of willpower, or lack thereof, shouldn’t people either be successful in all aspects of life, or none at all?

Wouldn’t that mom who is an amazing mother to her three kids, and also works a full time job, inevitably make mince-meat of her fitness goals as well due to her “strong will”?

Wouldn’t that ridiculously successful and driven CEO have no problem with something as simple as eating better and moving more?

It works that way sometimes, but not all, or even most of the time.

Clearly something else is at play here, and the situation is naturally a whole lot more complicated than a simple possession or lack of self control.

We do not pretend to have all of the answers when dealing with something so abstract and complex.  Heck, even the brightest social scientists and psychologists in the world just got their universe flipped upside down in a recent study that essentially invalidated decades of research on the concept of willpower, and are now forced to start from scratch.  (

However, we do have some thoughts on what actually influences one’s chances for success in their fitness routine.  Stay tuned for part II to learn why proper goal setting, game planning, and “looking out for your future self” are the true puppeteers pulling the strings of the “willpower” boogeyman.

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