The concept of “willpower” has been a deeply rooted belief in society. They have taught us that we can overcome obstacles, change habits, and achieve our goals with enough determination and self-control. And above all, it has been drilled into our bones that if we don’t achieve something it is our fault for not having enough willpower.
Willpower entails an internal struggle that involves suppressing impulses, thoughts, and emotions. In society, we have considered it one of the best virtues. However, more and more experts in psychology and neuroscience argue that willpower as we know it does not exist or is not enough, and that there is a big difference between willpower and willpower.
Psychiatrist Judson Brewer presents arguments as to why the notion of willpower is flawed. Brewer argues that the idea of willpower is based on the assumption that there is a “self” that has total control over its actions and decisions. However, neuroscience research has shown that our brain is a highly complex system in which multiple factors influence our choices and behaviors.
He suggests that the idea of willpower is based on a simplistic view of the human mind and does not take into account the underlying factors that influence our actions. He argues that self-discipline and habit change are much more complex processes than simply “wanting” to do something.
SELF-CONTROL IS LIMITED
One of the main arguments raised against the idea of willpower is its limitation. The belief in existence that it is unlimited and will always guide us toward making the right decisions is simplistic. Modern psychology has shown that self-control is an exhaustible mental resource.
The theory of self-control as a limited resource indicates that our self-control weakens as we use it. For example, if we resist the temptation to eat something we like during the day, our ability to maintain self-control in other areas, such as avoiding procrastination at work, is likely to be diminished. This limitation of self-control casts doubt on the idea that unlimited “willpower” can be summoned at any time, as if by magic.
A report by the American Psychological Association (APA) entitled “The Psychology of Will” supports this idea. The report suggests that self-control is a limited resource and that its depletion can negatively affect a person’s ability to make decisions that require self-discipline. This reinforces the idea that “willpower” is not an infinite source of power.
Instead of focusing on willpower, psychology experts suggest strategies based on managing self-discipline resources such as planning, creating environments that facilitate habit change, and setting realistic goals.
THE INFLUENCE OF EXTERNAL FACTORS
Belief in “willpower” also tends to overlook the influence of external factors on our decisions and behavior. For example, the fact that most of the foods we have in our pantry are ultra-processed, which does not provide us with the nutrients we need, will influence our choices when preparing a meal.
The work environment, friends, and family can also have a significant impact on our decisions. Even if we have a strong determination, it is difficult to constantly resist those things we call “temptations” when they are present in our environment.
THE INFLUENCE OF SCIENCE
Modern psychology and neuroscience have provided convincing evidence that our actions and decisions are not the result of a single willpower but of the interaction of multiple mental and biological processes.
The study of the brain has revealed that our decisions and actions are influenced by cognitive, emotional, and biological processes. For example, the brain’s reward system plays a fundamental role in the formation of habits and behaviors.
When we perform an action that gives us pleasure, such as eating something we like, reward circuits are activated in the brain. In the long term, this process can lead to habit formation. Therefore, “willpower” is insufficient to counteract these biological mechanisms.
AUTOMATION OF HEALTHY HABITS
Another approach that questions the need for “willpower” focuses on the automation of healthy habits. Scientific research has shown that the formation of healthy habits can simplify the decision-making process and reduce the need for constant self-discipline.
When we convert desirable behaviors into habits, we perform these actions almost automatically. This reduces the pressure on “willpower” because we are no longer dependent on a conscious decision to carry out these actions. For example, if we want to incorporate exercise into our daily routine, establishing a specific schedule and performing it consistently will eventually become a habit. With time and repetition, our brain associates that schedule with exercise, and doing it becomes second nature, rather than a constant struggle against laziness or resistance.