Will Power Vs Wont Power

Will Power is a term that’s often used when people are trying to create new behaviours. It’s often portrayed as essential to the change process, e.g. I am going to use my “will power” to get up early every morning and go to the gym/study more/not eat cake etc. etc. etc.

The problem with that concept is that if we nominalise will power into being something essential for change, even though we can’t see it, then all our crafty unconscious mind (who prefers not to change and stick with what we know) has to do is tell us it isn’t there “I’ve lost my will power” and the new behaviour evaporates in the absence of this thing that doesn’t really exist that we have told ourselves we need. Confused? Well your brain is, so it just aborts the idea of any change and goes back to its default setting.

Rather than being distracted by something that doesn’t exist, that more often than not means we wont change. We need to look at what actually happens neurologically when we want to create new beliefs and habits and use that information to form strategies that are powerful and effective.

The concept of Pleasure Vs Pain is key to any change work, the carrot or the stick metaphor is useful, but in reality we need them both. We are neurologically programmed to avoid pain, to move away from anything that will bring physical or emotional distress. It’s a survival instinct as pain is often associated with death, so our unconscious is always steering us away from it. It doesn’t like to change anything that has kept us safe for so many years. The brain is efficient and economical with its energy, and will only create a new neurological map if it really has to. That’s why addicts struggle and so many people fail when they try and diet or give up anything they enjoy; we are neurologically programmed to rebel against that as it leads to painful experiences of deprivation frustration and anxiety of not having the thing that makes us happy.

So what is the answer? As coaches we really need to understand how the brain operates when it comes to change work: we need to activate the pleasure centres in the brain and use the reticular activating system to identify what we want and associate massive pleasure with not just the goal, but the process. We have a variety of techniques within NLP and other therapies to do this so that our clients can change in the moment, and long term. The answer is not in something that isn’t real, but in methods that are very real and that have practical measurable effects on how we think and feel.

So the question is – will you or won’t you?

By Janet Thomson MSc