The Myth of Willpower

Updated: Feb 7

Although over one hundred articles have been written on willpower, recent meta-analysis research found no credible evidence to support the premises of ego depletion and motivation used to substantiate the construct of so called “willpower”. Most of the refuted research was poorly designed, using simplistic

choices to measure willpower.


I argue that willpower, as a psychological attribute, is a myth. Instead, I offer an alternative model to explain how we keep or break commitments. Rather than some internal power to act or not on specific challenging conditions, we have agency: A call to action for desired outcome. With the construct of agency, we can identify how we choose and enact our options.


I propose there are three constituents influencing personal agency. Order, self- significance, and leap of faith. Each has a terrain that sustains the required enacting behaviors. Order is attained in the terrain of discipline, self-significance in the terrain of worthiness, and leap of faith in the terrain of existential trust.


Enacted commitments, rather than willpower, are the actions we formulate to reject enticements that do not serve us well or accept conditions that enhance meaning in our journey. Interestingly, both options involve the same three constituents. The discipline to walk away from weakness and accept inherent strength, self-significance to value worthiness more than what is being rejected, and leap of faith to sense the wisdom of refusing misery and embracing discovery at a higher order of functioning.


Each of the three terrains can be developed to gain proficiency in enacting agency rather than wasting energy on the myth of willpower. Never blame helplessness on lack of willpower. Instead, learn how to ignite agency and enter the domain of thriving under adversity.