Saturday, September 17, 2016


The discussion on willpower always fascinates me, because I believe that I may have a backwards understanding of it.  In my mind, willpower is the ability to compel oneself to act against their instincts and desires.  One of the greatest demonstrations of willpower that is constantly mentioned is that of G. Gordon Liddy holding his hand over a burning candle, letting the flame burn his flesh.  He would perform this feat until the people watching got disgusted, and used this demonstration when he was being interrogated to explain how he simply would never crack, his explanation being “the trick is not minding”.  Anyone who bought the Matt Kroc DVD witnessed a similar feat with Kroc driving a dull nail through his bicep with his bare hands.  Clearly, these were individuals with an absurd amount of willpower, and they used it to do things they didn’t want to do…so why do so many people think they need willpower simply to do the things they want to do?

Image result for g gordon liddy candle
He is the only dude that can get away with a photo like this

I constantly observe people that say they want to lose weight, or they want to get bigger, or they want to get stronger, or just in general, in some way, they want to physically improve themselves.  These same people then turn around and ask how they go about acquiring the willpower to achieve their goals. To mean, something has been lost in the translation here.  If you want something, why would you need willpower to get it?  Isn’t the motivating drive toward something we want DESIRE?  Don’t we already have a built in mechanism as humans to chase those things that we want?  Why would one need willpower to do what they want?  It makes zero sense.   No one, outside of masochists, WANTS to drive a nail through their bicep or burn their flesh with a candle; that is why it requires EXTREME willpower to accomplish these feats.  Willpower is necessary to overcome our base instincts and do what is wrong.  But self-improvement?  Why would one need willpower to pursue that?

I argue that those claiming they are lacking willpower are in honesty simply poorly prioritizing.  If one makes their primary goal to achieve greatness in whatever endeavor they pursue (strength, leaness, winning in competition, etc etc), they will naturally gravitate toward the actions that will facilitate that goal.  In point of fact, it would require a significant amount of willpower to DEVIATE from that path, for it would require them to ignore their driving force and priorities in order to accomplish something that works against their end goals.  However, if one decides to prioritize things OTHER than their goal of self-improvement, they will simply gravitate toward those actions, irrespective of if they assist in their goal of self-improvement.

 Image result for squatting on a bosu ball
I honestly can't even fathom what he was hoping to accomplish

For example, someone who prioritizes being lean will make the dietary choices that facilitates that priority.  Someone who prioritizes eating delicious food in gluttonous amounts will make the dietary choices that facilitate that priority.  In the case of the former, zero willpower is required for the trainee to “resist the temptation” of off menu food choices, as the trainee is simply abiding by the driving force that facilitates meeting his priority. The only temptation they experience is the temptation to continue doing what it takes to succeed.  It would take willpower to DEVIATE from this path, while staying on it requires none.  It is the same for the individual that wants to eat yummy food; they will eat the food they like and resist the temptation to stop doing that and start eating in a way that results in being lean.  They need no willpower to follow their priorities.

I observe this personally, as I’m sure many others have.  The very first time I got appreciably lean (reference the very first post in this blog), I had a powerliting meet that I was cutting weight for.  I started off at a fluffy 202lbs and slowly got down to a lean 190 to make the cut to 181.  During that time, I ate a very bland and repetitive diet of primarily ground beef and veggies.  The diet was no sacrifice, there was no martyrdom, and no willpower was required; I wanted to compete at 181, and this was what I had to do to get there.  It would have required willpower for me to deviate from this plan, because I would have been acting against my priority.  The thought of chowing down on pizza or fast food caused me distress, because I knew it would hinder me from my goals, so I abstained.  Consequently, I made weight, set some national records in my fed, and won “best lifter”, a goal I had been chasing for a while.  Additionally, once the meet was over, I went on a fast food binge that lasted about 2 years, because my priorities had shifted from making weight to eating yummy food.  It wasn’t until 3 years later that I found myself prioritizing being lean for the sake of being lean, and for the past year now my diet has been largely the same as it was for the 3 months prepping for that meet, minus a weekly cheat meal.  I once again require no willpower to follow this diet; I simply prioritize being lean over being gluttonous.

 Image result for id ego superego
Try to develop an Ego that is jacked enough to beat the Id to death with the Superego

The same happens with a strongman contest looming.  In the off season, I sleep in through a lot of my morning workouts and end up circling around and knocking them out in the evening.  I am prioritizing comfort over progress.  However, when I sign up for a show, I have zero issues waking up at 0445 to train.  I did not suddenly gain a surplus of willpower; I shifted my priorities.  If I sign up for a show, spend the money to register and travel, take the time off work, and have my friends and family watch, I want to win, and I do what it takes to accomplish that.  Waking up early and training hard makes me better than the competitors who sleep in and train while comfortable, so I do it without question.  It would take willpower for me to skip a morning workout, because it would mean working against my goal and forsaking my priorities.  And to further add, when in the off season, it is easy to gravitate toward training the things I like, but when a show looms I train the things I need to train, regardless of if I am good at them.  No willpower required; it is me meeting my priorities.

If you find yourself in a situation where you must exercise extreme amounts of willpower to meet your goal, ask yourself if it really is your goal.  Why would you need to be trying so hard to do the things you want to do?  Why wouldn’t it come naturally?  Why wouldn’t you eagerly perform the actions that will get you what you want?  Why must you be a martyr; with much suffering and misery and calling of attention to your “sacrifice”?  Perhaps you simply haven’t prioritized it as much as you think you have.  Perhaps you actually prioritize comfort, sloth, and gluttony.  There is nothing wrong with that, it’s your priorities, but maybe it is these priorities that are holding you back.

Image result for Fat people stuffing their face
We all have our priorities

Put simply; maybe you just don’t want it bad enough.


  1. How would you suggest beating the prioritizing of sloth, comfort, and gluttony?

    1. That's the best part; it's a choice. Whenever you want to pick a different thing to prioritize, you just do it. It can be fluid, where some days you prioritize one and then the other, but I think you will find that, the more you value success, the less you prioritize the other stuff.

    2. I'm not Mythical Strength, I don't play one on TV, and I didn't even stay in a Holiday Inn last night, but here's my advice.

      Be honest with yourself and use cognitive reframing.

      Instead of, " I don't have time for X" or "I can't do X because ____," think "X is not a priority for me right now."

      Often, being honest with yourself and consciously reframing that statement will make you go, "wait, fuck that, this is what I want so this what I'm going to do to get it," whereas if you constantly let yourself off the hook with excuses, it crafts a false narrative.

      In the positive, instead of thinking, "I have to do X," think "I GET to do X." Because it's true. You GET to exercise for fun. It may seem trite to compare yourself to the less fortunate, but your grandmother was right--there ARE starving people in China. There are people less fortunate than you whether by disability, injury, finances, etc. who couldn't exercise for fun if they wanted to. Someday, you may not be able to either, so you best enjoy it while you can.


    3. That's the essence of this article (which I really liked, by the way). "I would RATHER have that cheeseburger right now than be best lifter in two months." Too often we give ourselves the easy out when we should just be honest about our priorities. If you still eat the cheeseburger anyway, at least you're being realistic about why and not bullshitting yourself.


    4. Well put Will. The reframing is absolutely critical for understanding the situation, and it's amazing how much it will change things. A prime example for me is video games. I used to play a TON, and now I'm lucky to get in an hour a month. I'll occasionally see a new game for sale and think to myself "I wish I had the time to play that", before I stop and say "No, what I really wish is that I would prioritize playing that game", and THEN it dawns on me that, no, I actually really DON'T want to do that. As fun as games might be, I don't want to place them above getting stronger, reading, or spending time with my family, so they get booted.

      The perspective you mention is also very valuable, and it's what got me through my injury. I knew that all I was dealing with was just not being able to train 100% the way I like, while there were others who simply couldn't not train. Always gotta have the big picture.

    5. Yeah, and that reminds me that a thorough reunion with Halo is on my to-do list after this quarter of hell wraps up!

  2. This article really hit home man. My goal isn't until next year (which involves being about 15lbs leaner than I am now), but I find myself screwing up for no reason. I know the reason...I care more about feeling good short term than hitting my long term goals.

    Reevaluating some things...I've gotta go return some video tapes. Thanks as always man.

    1. No problem dude. Take what you got from this and run with it. And know that you're not alone. I've sat down and had this same exact conversation with myself tons of times. We are the master manipulators of ourselves; able to know exactly what to say to trick us off course. It takes that slap in the face and cold shower to really get the eyes open again.