Discipline v. Willpower
The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will. - Vince Lombardi
I’m the kind of person who finds it easier to work out after a piece of cake, then to refrain from eating it in the first place. The former requires discipline; the latter, willpower.
My husband is the king of willpower, and as much as I admire him for it, it’s also highly annoying. Last week, for example, I bought him a piece of cake from his favorite bakery. Unbeknownst to me, he was on a low-carb kick, so that cake got eaten, instead, by me. Josh’s willpower enabled him to just say no, whereas I had to make up for it by logging 5 miles on the treadmill. I’d like to say that it was worth it, but it wasn’t, since what I really wanted was to lose a few lbs before our Hawaiian vacation.
I similarly lacked willpower when I was single and dating. More often than not, I’d meet someone I was attracted to, but knew instinctively had no long-term potential. Instead of exercising willpower to say no to a first date, I’d dip my toes in the water, and end up in the deep end with the wrong guy. Eventually, I’d exercise the “discipline” to get out and dry off, but not without consequences.
In each instance, things started off innocently enough. Raised flags were more pink than red, as none of what I indulged in was bad, per se. There’s nothing wrong with going on a date with someone you’re not sure of, and I firmly believe a little chocolate cake is good for the soul. But every time I chose to indulge, “just one bite,” turned into “just one more;” and “just one date,” into “just another chance.” Over time, my “no” muscle grew weak. I attribute this weakness to an over-reliance on discipline. You see, I’m the kind of person who likes doing Herculean things (see, e.g., finishing an Ironman, running for Congress, and starting my own business). When I’m focused on a goal, I’ll do whatever it takes to achieve it. I’m good at doing.
It’s not doing that I’m bad at. And that requires willpower.
This realization has been a game changer. A combination of self-awareness, therapy, and prayer has turned the tide in some important areas of my life. I’m now less inclined to do whatever I want in the moment, and deal with the consequences later.
In fact, that’s how I landed Josh. A God intervention caused me to reexamine who I let in into my heart, which made room for Josh in it. But saying “yes” to Josh, required saying “no” to others first, and no amount of discipline could have made up for a lack of willpower.
I’m still strengthening my “no” in other areas of my life, including consistency in my diet. Clearly, I struggle when it comes to chocolate cake - but overall, I’m a lot better. What helps most is asking myself what I REALLY want: a momentary pleasure, or forward momentum towards my goals. Discipline can only move you forward when coupled with willpower. Take one or the other away, and you’ll just keep ending up right back where you started.
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. - Philippians 4:13