Willpower’s Overrated, Burn the Boats

Two weeks ago, I thought I was hopeless.

Almost every time I self-reflected, I ended up in tears. This really wasn’t ideal, because that usually ended up happening in my car, and believe it or not, it’s not really safe to cry and drive.

Why was I in so much emotional distress?

I was in an awkward situation. I had come to a painful realization, one that demanded a resolution.

I had discovered the cold, hard, truth that I was kind of a loser.

Now, admittedly, “loser” is a bit of a vague term that has a lot of different definitions. So let me just tell you MY definition.

In my books, a loser is not necessarily someone who loses, everyone loses sometimes. A loser is someone who, despite knowing they need to change for the better, does not. A loser is someone who can easily identify their negative traits, but instead of fighting to break away from those dislikable parts of themself, just accepts them, and makes excuses.

If you see yourself in that definition, that’s ok. It probably hurts. It definitely sent me in a downward spiral.

I know this from personal experience, the worst thing you can do is give up. Yes, it’s painful to confront reality, and yes, it does feel hopeless.

Trust me, it’s not.

See, I used to think that all that I had to do to stop being a loser was to just “try harder”, or just simply “use more willpower”. However, at least for me, that never worked, at least not for long.

Willpower is kind of a finicky thing. I like to think of it like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. The less you use it, the weaker it becomes. You need to work it out.

And chances are, if you’re anything like me, you haven’t hit the mental gym in a while.

Well, that’s it then, right? People like you and I are just hopeless. We’ll always fall victim to our base desires and never rise above.

Here’s the thing. There’s another way to resist temptation and build up good habits.

Burn The Boats

His crew thought that he had lost his mind, that he had gone crazy. Who in their right mind would ever do something like that?

Hernán Cortés just smiled. He knew what he was doing. They didn’t make him head of this expedition into the Americas for nothing.

For both him and his crew to survive, they were going to need to be fully committed to the mission. And that meant no going back to Spain. And how does one guarantee there’s no turning around? Simple. Burn the boats.

Yes, it was dramatic and maybe foolish, but at the end of the day, it worked.

Why Should I Care?

So, some super old guy from Spain destroyed his ships hundreds of years ago, what’s the relevance?

Well, Cortés understood something important. He knew that there was a chance his men’s willpower and determination might falter, and they might attempt a coup and abandon him for Spain.

So he did what he had to, he removed the ability for his men to leave.

Maybe we can do the same things in our lives.

Let’s be honest, for most of us, too often we find our willpower lacking. No matter how hard we try, when it matters, we crumble. It’s incredibly frustrating. But it doesn’t have to be.

There’s a life hack we can use here. We need to burn OUR boats.

Two weeks ago I decided to take this concept and run with it.

One of my biggest vices happens to be laziness. Whenever I’m not at work, eating, or sleeping, my first inclination is to immediately get on my phone and waste hours watching YouTube.

If I didn’t have any outside goals in life, that would be fine. The issue is that I DO have goals, and I want to accomplish them, but my inability to turn off my phone was preventing me from using my time productively. No matter how hard I tried to just willpower my eyes away from that glorious algorithm, I just couldn’t.

So, I decided it was time to take drastic action. I blocked YouTube off my phone.

I downloaded the BlockSite app, and set it so that the only person who could unblock Youtube was my roommate. I told him to not unblock it, at least for a month.

Honestly, there are some days where I really don’t like the decision that past me made, but there’s no going back now. And that’s the point. Because on those mornings where I would waste four hours on meaningless content, I’m doing other things, working out, reading, writing, etc.

The other big plus? I’m able to save up my willpower and use it on other things. Because now, it’s not nearly the same battle it used to be to get off my phone. Sure, I still need some control over myself, that’s life. BUT, I’ve burnt the boats, and I’m better off for it.

And don’t get it twisted, this isn’t just useful in breaking bad habits, with some ingenuity, you can start to form some really good habits as well.

With all this being said, I’d like to invite you to take the same leap that I have. Find that bad habit that you just can’t seem to shake, or decide on one really good habit you’ve always wanted to have. Once you have a goal in mind, brainstorm an action you can take that once you’ve committed to it, there’s no return, no way to fall back into old patterns.

Yes, it can be daunting, and more than a little scary, but please trust me, it’s so, so worth it. I believe in you, you are more capable than you think, you GOT THIS.

And, as always my friends, Choose Joy.



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Ben Schoel

Ben Schoel

A curious and adventurous mind, always ready to push boundaries and forge the new trail.