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Willpower is Not Enough

Train trapped in the snow during the Long Winter. No food or supplies got to the Ingalls family.

I’ve been reading the Little House books to my daughter. Aside from being quite entertaining, they have a very strong narrative about rugged individualism. Pa and Ma go through countless trials and tribulations, but they have each other and their family and that is all they need. In the notes attached to Pioneer Girl, Wilder’s autobiography, we learn that during the Long Winter, the Ingalls family had a young couple and their newborn baby living with them. But Wilder made the deliberate decision to completely exclude them from her narrative in order to emphasize the independence of her family.

We Americans love our independence.

We love cowboys, solo endurance hikers, “self-made” billionaires, entrepreneurs, rags to riches stories, and anyone who pulls himself up by his bootstraps. “God helps those who help themselves” may be common folk wisdom, but it certainly isn’t in the Bible. We started our nation by declaring our independence and we’ve continued the streak ever since. If you ever watched the show Parks and Recreation (and if you haven’t, you must), you know Ron Swanson, the archetypal Rugged Individualist.

Our latest version of American rugged individualism is our near worship of willpower. We try to lose weight, build muscle, practice our faith, and maintain our families all by ourselves. We believe that if we just prioritize better, manage our time more effectively, deny ourselves the food we want to eat and the naps we want to take, we will be successful.

Willpower is an excellent tool when we are in the moment of the struggle. When I’m hiking a path and feel like I can’t go on another moment, willpower is what keeps me going. When my daughter throws a tantrum and yells at me, willpower is what keeps me from lashing out in anger.

But willpower is not enough for long term success.

For long term success we need plans and community. We need a group of people around us to offer us love and support. And counter intuitively, we need those people to offer us grace every time we fail. A good accountability partner is not the one who scolds you for missing a goal. It’s the one who says, “You can start again tomorrow.”

When I first went on anti-anxiety medication, I was deeply worried that I would lose all my success. I thought that without my own vicious self-flagellation, I would accomplish nothing. My anxiety loaded my willpower up with massive punishments for failure, and I was very successful. But it was destroying my body. When I actually went on the medication, I discovered something amazing.

Living by grace made me even more successful.

Once the medication removed my anxiety, I no longer had to succeed at any cost. I didn’t mind so much if I failed. I could truly receive the love and respect offered by my community and my faith. And as my perfectionism faded, my achievements grew. I published a collection of short stories. I got my dream job. I had a child. I started my own business. I completed cross stitch projects I had been working on for years. I learned how to bake bread. I learned how to garden.

I can help you live beyond willpower.

As a coach, I can teach you how to move past a life driven by willpower, into a life that glides on love and grace. That’s my entire goal as a coach. To get a taste at an insanely affordable price, check out my Accountability Program, and experience grace filled powerful accountability!


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