The Opposite of Willpower

Happy new year everybody. 

Early January is a time when we contemplate new beginnings, rebirth, and adaptation. We resolve to make changes to better ourselves.

A lot of times, though, we have trouble sticking to it and slough off by February.

The high failure rate is not caused by our inability to change - a misconception that can be disheartening over many years of trying.

It has a lot more to do with how we approach change and the way we frame our role in the transformation.

So my goal in this first post of 2021 is to help even one reader (maybe you! 😉) affect enduring adaptive change.

Let’s start with a quote from the Lao Tzu, my favorite guy:

Under heaven nothing is more soft and yielding than water.

Yet for attacking the solid and strong, nothing is better;

It has no equal.

The weak can overcome the strong;

The supple can overcome the stiff.

Under heaven everyone knows this,

Yet no one puts it into practice.

Willpower Is A Total Crock

The big mistake is trying to force change with a harsh and unyielding ethos - an iron fist.

We believe in the blunt force of willpower.

We’re going to resist the chocolate cake with willpower. We’re going to get up early and run even though we’re exhausted because of willpower.

This is a total crock. 

Willpower is the war against our own nature. It is the denial of self and stiff like rigor mortis. It is Sisyphus rolling a boulder up the mountain for eternity.

We can stay rigid and fight for a little while, a month or two, maybe longer if we’re a real good faker, but we can only feign who we are for so long.

The Opposite of Willpower

I looked up the antonym of willpower on Google, but I was disappointed.

The opposite of willpower is not indecision or hesitancy or apathy - at least it’s not for me.

To me, the opposite of willpower is flexibility, suppleness, softness - the stuff Lao Tzu was writing about in the Tao Te Ching.

A metaphor I love is Judo.

Judo translates to “gentle or yielding way.”

One of the central tenets is allowing the force of your opponent to do the work for you and using his loss of balance to win.

Softness controls hardness, the judoka says.

Instead of forcing ourselves to change, we can yield to reinvention.

Finding Your People

So how do we do this? How do we learn to yield? How do we change by being soft?

The best way to do it is to find our people and learn from them - If we want to be a runner, find runners. If we want to get lean, find people who got lean.

This is how we learn humbly by example and with our emotions fully engaged. This is how we find role models who will teach and inspire us.

It isn’t always the case, but many times those who have made the changes we want to make are happy to share their knowledge which is a lovely feature of human nature.