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Why willpower doesn’t work and what you need instead

I’ve recently been reading the refreshing book, Why Willpower Doesn’t Work, by blogger and psychologist, Benjamin P Hardy. It’s a short book, to the point and well-structured so that from the outset he’s into the meat of his argument.

  • desire it
  • be willing to invest in it
  • align your environment with your desire
  • own them — these are not secret fantasies that you’ve never whispered outloud, but clear aims. Even better if you make yourself accountable to someone for achieving them.
  • plan them — you need a timeline, not a vague sense of sometime, someday
  • nurture them — this is the vital key for Hardy — that you remove anything from environment that opposes your goal

What is the right environment?

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Photo by Nick Hillier on Unsplash

1. an enriched environment

Hardy considers that high stress environments work for productivity, but that short intense bursts also mean that we require high recovery environments. In short, it’s not about one static environment, but doing certain activties in the most optimised places. Both the high stress and high recovery environments are what Hardy terms ‘enriched environments’ where you are either ‘fully on’ or ‘fully off’.

  • And you need time (a great deal of time) for rejuvenation
  • You need to full engagement and to be present to each environment.

2. rotating environments

Hardy proposes having different environments for different behaviours. He uses a case study of someone with two homes in diffferent locations, one for work, the other for rejevination, but you don’t need an extra mortgage.

Using outside environments to make powerful decisions

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Photo by Filip Varga on Unsplash
  • walk
  • listen to music
  • workout
  • meditate
  • how far you’ve come
  • what is happening in your life
  • what you are grateful for
  • where you are not showing up in your life
  • the key changes you need to make
  • your frustrations or why you’ve struggled to make certain changes.

Staying on course

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Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash
  • wins
  • what didn’t go well
  • significant events
  • plans
  • what you’ve learnt and how you’ll use it
  • bigger picture goals
  • proximal goals (1–6 months)
  • to dos for next week
  • puts you into a peak state to achieve dreams
  • frames what want to do that da
  • makes you live proactively to avoid self sabotage
  • makes you aware of your goals


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Photo by Elli O. on Unsplash
  • cooking from scratch X times per week
  • doing yoga/exercise X times per week
  • walking X steps per day …
  • 40 hours work
  • 10–15 minutes of Facebook per day
  • spending limits
  • eating (out) limits …

Eliminate distractions

They are quick dopamine fixes that sap your energy so get rid of some apps and have times when you switch off your phone.

Eliminate options

Once you know what you want, stressing over paths not taken is a way to stand still. Know your direction and head there:

Eliminate people

Some people suck all your energy out or refuse to let you change. They may be integral to your life, but you need to find ways to distance their influence.

Eliminate working memory

Hardy notes that you short term memory is finite. Instead of trying to hold it all, write down your insights fast. Similarly, when you need to let someone know something, do it now — be clear, timely and straightforward.

Unplug from work

Few of us can eliminate work, or would want to, but you do need periods of down time and rejuvenation.

Use distraction

We all have habits we want to break and Hardy advises using distraction rather than willpower. The trick is to find yourself some implementation intentions. Simply, this is something you can do to divert yourself from something you don’t want to do, for example:

  • If I want sugary snacks I’ll go for a walk around the block instead

A positive view

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Photo by Bolun Yan on Unsplash
  • reflecting on them
  • synthesising the learning
  • doing something towards attaining the idea
  • experiencing the results

A Collaborative Approach

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Photo by Mike Erskine on Unsplash
  • motivationally you need to know what you want, your ‘why’
  • behaviourally you need to shape an environment that works for you not against you

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Editor, author, feminist & part-time nomad. Helping others develop their writing life and practice. Blog @

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