Why willpower won’t work.
I think Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park fame summed it up perfectly in his side hustle Fort Minor song ‘Remember the Name.’ In fact it’s been my anthem for many years, my inspo song, my mantra.
This is ten percent luck
Twenty percent skill
Fifteen percent concentrated power of will
Five percent pleasure
Fifty percent pain
And a hundred percent reason to remember the name
It’s a total combo deal, navigating this life stuff and will power has its place, yes, but there’s no point trying to increase your will power until you know what your problem is. And when it comes to drinking, alcohol isn’t the problem, really, it’s your relationship with it.
Willpower is a word that I associate with quitting things and the 90s. I feel like it was a buzz word when Tony Robbins was unleashing power, Oprah was making the connection, hyper colour tee-shirts were in and I was suffering through a terrible perm. (Although it’s called a perm, thankfully this wasn’t permanent, just most of my Year 9 in high school experience).
When I think about what willpower is, it’s wrapped up in the world of motivation and being better, focussing on doing something or not doing something with all your might, strength, will and power. And that to me, sounds exhausting. I’m not suggesting will power doesn’t have a place and should be cast aside with other trends from the 90s like the side pony and Gameboys but when it comes to managing your relationship with alcohol, will power just won’t cut it. And here’s why. And don’t worry, I have something to share with you, that will empower, in fact that’s the term we should use instead.
According to the dictionary, willpower is to control exerted to something or restrain impulses or the ability to control your own thoughts and the way in which you behave. And while there are a hundred thousand books about increasing, developing, training, harnessing and implementing willpower this also sounds very much like just being a well-mannered non-pain in the ass human.
If you are ‘using your willpower’ to overcome something, it’s best to first know and try to understand why the hell it’s a thing for you in the first place, right? I mean it’s common sense to know thyself. If your choices are confusing you, like mine were, then a good self-talk in the mirror will establish within you a dialogue about why you are doing what you are doing that requires all your willpower to stop.
Start at awareness.
Without the awareness of why you are doing a thing, there isn’t a chance you’ll be able to ‘control’ it. I’m not a fan of the world control either. ‘In control’ or ‘out of control’ to me feel restrictive, I like the word freedom. To have freedom around your choices, you need to understand that they are your choices to make.
The endless cycle I had of ‘I don’t want to drink today’ and then, ‘oh shoot I’m at the bar again’ I battled with for ages and no matter how much ‘willpower’ I asserted I ended up at the bar because I hadn’t realized why I was drinking. Until you have awareness, you can’t even comprehend being able to overcome an urge. In this case, drinking. A little too much or a little too often. Or perhaps a lot. It’s really that simple. Figure out the reason behind the behaviour, then you can use logic to make a new choice.
My dilemma was this. Why was it that when it came to my career, I was a willpower ninja, I was so in control, getting promoted at work, rising to the top, yet in my personal alone time, I was a hot mess, unable to get through the week without a drink. Sound familiar? Surely this isn’t about willpower. Surely willpower isn’t discriminatory. Surely if you have it, you just have it, like the X factor or period pain.
The self-talk in the mirror allowed me to identify the reason behind the choice to drink alcohol, as much and as often as I was, and I was then able to start to deal with the pain I was masking. Without getting too deep, I was drinking to cope with the pressure I was under. Most of it self-inflicted, and some past trauma I had failed to deal with in a productive way. I was your classic high-functioning, I woke up like this, kick-ass woman with a serious case of trying to hold it all together. And you just can’t. All the self-help manuals and Tony Robbins walk-across-burning-hot-coals motivation seminars in the world won’t be of any use to you, until you knuckle down and figure out the reason for the behaviour.
When it comes to changing a behaviour that has become ‘normal’ for you, the first thing to do is to figure out the why. Why? Without understanding why, you drink, you won’t be able to deal with the underlying problem that you’re using alcohol to ignore, numb or run away from. And even if it’s as simple as, ‘well, I just feel more comfortable in social situations after a few drinks,’ I would argue that you are a wonderfully complex person and we were designed to sit in the uncomfortable to let shape us. You are capable of being in a social situation without being half-cut. We were designed to be! The only way you can grow, is to be in that place, without that drink, and be ok with you, first.