Many clients have asked me how to get more willpower. I was reminded of this recently when I met up with an acquaintance.
“I have been sober for one year, eight months, three weeks and four days,” he told me with visible pride.
I was sitting across from him at one of those coffee places we haven’t been able to frequent for the past year and a half.
He had called me a few days earlier and told me that a friend had given him a copy of my book “Life Sinks or Soars – the Choice is Yours,” which he had finished reading the previous evening. He asked if I would mind meeting him for coffee, and would I also please bring along copies that he could buy and give to a few friends. How could I refuse an offer like that?
Willpower Wasn’t Enough
I listened intently as he described a “descent into hell,” which unfettered alcoholism had caused in his life.
He talked of the years of denial, as well as the daily rationalization that provided permission to continue drinking. The lost his marriage, his career and nearly lost his life.
His life is now back on track, because of his sobriety. He and his ex-wife are working on reconciliation, and also, he is in a job that he loves. He has even become a regular attendee at the gym he joined seven months ago.
His tale is a common, but fascinating one. I have always had great admiration for those who overcome addiction as well as other examples of adversity. I never tire of hearing their stories.
Willpower is a Myth
Clients ask me how to get more willpower and I usually tell them willpower is a myth. It’s motivation we’re looking for, and my friend found a powerful motivation. I’ll explain.
I was especially intrigued by one thing he said. I asked him why recovering addicts can always cite -to the day- the exact amount of time they have been sober?
He told me that it is an enormous source of pride to be able to say that he has been sober for one year, eight months, three weeks and four days. He went on to say that tomorrow he will be able to say that he has been sober for one year, eight months, three weeks and five days.
Unless he has a drink today.
Start the Count
In that case he will only be able to tell the world that he has been sober for one day. The count of one year, eight months, three weeks and four days will be lost forever and the pain of its loss will be far greater, and will last far longer, than any pleasure that a drink would provide. He is not alone in feeling this way. There are even Sobriety Counter apps that keep track for you.
To me, that makes sense. The longer we have done something worthwhile, the more we have to lose if we quit.
Instead of asking how to get more willpower, ask yourself how you can create a chain or a count connected to your goal. Something that will hurt to break.(Click to Tweet)
My friend’s success speaks so loudly to why we do what we do. We have spoken of this in many previous blogs but it is so important that we grasp it that it is worth discussing again.
We only ever do one thing. We do what is important to us in the moment. Period.
That one thing is governed by the two opposing forces that “motivate” us to do what we do. We do what we do in order to gain pleasure or to avoid pain.
Most of us have low pain thresholds, therefore the moment we become aware of pain, we begin wondering what we need to do to make it go away.
The More You Have to Lose
Like, for example, craving that drink so badly that we talk ourselves into pouring and drinking it even though we know we shouldn’t.
Because the pain of resisting that drink is immediate. The pleasure of being a non-drinker is distant.
Unless you’re like my new friend. He sucked up the pain, because no matter how much he desperately craved a drink in those early days and weeks, the pain of having to go back to day one of sobriety was more than he was willing to endure.
I met him on Monday. Today is Friday. Which means he has now been sober for one year, eight months, three weeks and nine days. What an accomplishment.
Till we read again.