Willpower is a myth. I will say it louder for the people in the back – WILLPOWER IS A MYTH. There is no such thing as willpower.

In the August 3rd episode of her podcast “Before Breakfast,” Laura Vanderkam walked through why willpower is over-rated.  She reviews several ways to control your environment so you don’t have to rely on willpower. In today’s post, you can learn how to set yourself up for success by addressing what is in your control in each of the three dimensions of Sustainable Productivity.

Health & Fitness

I know that I should not eat a whole sleeve of Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies. There is no way that 16 cookies of any type are part of a healthy, well balanced diet. Yet, here we are – my “willpower” does not exist once the the package is open. Therefore, I need to set myself up for success and not rely on willpower to resist Thin Mints.

Source: Simple Pin Media

For me what Sustainably Productivity looks like is not buying Thin Mints except for when my nieces call me to place my annual order. I can’t keep them in the house. Laura’s podcast talks about other options for portion size, but those are not sustainable choices for me.

Mental Well-being

I have been trying to establish a morning routine as part of my Mental Well-being. This is not a new struggle – I have talked to you a little bit about this before. This has been particularly challenging because there has been very little continuity in my days this summer. Here is what runs through my head, “I have more free time than usual so I SHOULD be able to keep a consistent morning routine.”

Ugh, “should.” The ugly step-mother to willpower. Hear me when I say this again: There is no such thing as willpower. There are moods, poor planning, wrong choices, or bad timing. None of this is related to your ability to accomplish your goals.

Therefore, I take each day as its own and try again with the morning routine based on that day’s schedule. If it is raining and I cannot swim, I use my Plan B for the exercise part of my morning routine. If I have an interview and I cannot complete the whole routine in 1 block of time, I relax about the scheduling of it and do what I can, when I can.

Physical Environment

Is my house the only place where paper is hard to wrangle? From what I hear in talking to people, I think probably not. We needed a system to manage all the paperwork coming into the house. Again – willpower was not the solution. Would we really postpone starting family dinner so I could sort the junkman that came today? Does it make sense to prioritize bills just because I think I need to prove I have willpower?

Not. Sustainable.

So we set up a system to drop the mail in a cute bin from Target that sits on our kitchen counter. Then I deal with the mail when it works for me, not just when I think I “should.”

How can you create systems to solve problems you have been relying on willpower to address? Is there a nagging issue that you berate yourself for every time you skip it on your list or avoid on your calendar? I’d love to hear what you think about the idea that willpower is a myth.