Why Willpower Is Not Enough by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

Commitment is one of the most important aspects of success, regardless of the type of goal. Commitment, when it is true and deep, is a great fuel for moving forward. It is important to understand, however, even when you are deeply committed to a goal, you must have the systems in place to help you meet that goal.

Too often we want to rely on willpower to help us meet our goals. However, relying on willpower is often ill-fated, as it is a resource that runs out quickly. We only have so much mental and physical energy to support willpower, and soon we give into our old habits because we are drained of this energy.

Rather, to meet goals, it is important to have systems in place to help move you forward. These systems will operate when your willpower fails, helping you to stay on track.

A simple example is of the proverbial dieter, who has vowed to give up cookies. This dieter is much more likely to be successful if she ensures that she doesn’t have access to cookies in her home than if she buys cookies, ostensibly for her family, relying on her willpower to refrain from eating them. It is likely that there will come an evening, after a long hard day at work, when she is tired and hungry. The cookies on the shelf will seem to be calling her name, and it will be too much for her willpower to overcome.


Systems set you up to be successful. Systems can be routines that help you stay on track, or even support people who hold you accountable. Systems can also be substitutes, helping you to replace problems or obstacles with more acceptable means. Using the example above, support systems might include dieting with a buddy, while substitutions might include buying low calorie cookies to help avoid a feeling of deprivation, allowing the dieter to have a snack.

Change is difficult, and making real change takes a period of practice. Having the systems in place to help you develop the right habits and keep them, will help ensure your success in making the changes you need as a leader.