Willpower Alone Will Not Set You Free

by | Jan 17, 2022

The problem with willpower…

I tried so many times to give up smoking, but always failed. Years later, I discovered the reason why. I was relying on willpower alone and that was never going to be enough.

I thought I wanted to give up, but deep, deep down I didn’t – and so, I couldn’t.

I often think about my battle with cigarettes at this time of year as I hear countless stories of woe from friends, colleagues, and clients – their new year’s resolutions in tatters.


“It’s not your fault,” I tell them. “You were doomed to fail.” I know, I’ve been there.

That’s not to say, you don’t keep trying. And thankfully, I know how to make things a little easier…

Change your story

Here’s the ‘science’ bit…

We all have two minds. We have a conscious mind, which is our ‘thinking’ mind and we have a subconscious mind, which is our ‘feeling’ or ‘emotional’ mind. Our conscious mind is generally focused on the past or the future, whereas our subconscious mind is invariably focused on the present moment only.

If we want to stop doing something, we generally rely on our willpower, which is a conscious mind decision. The reason willpower fails every single time is because our subconscious mind will sabotage it. If we want to change anything in our lives, we need to harness the power of our subconscious mind.

We need to change the paradigms in our subconscious mind. We need to change the stories we tell ourselves. If emotionally we’re not ready to change, then we won’t.

I’m not cold

It’s quite tricky to get your head around this and so let me tell you a story about a client of mine. I met Belinda (name changed), for the first time on a freezing cold January day.

She suggested we have coffee. I headed for the comfort of the sofa with my latte, Belinda asked to sit outside, so she could smoke.

I wasn’t overly thrilled by the idea – but I followed her onto the street, nonetheless. During our conversation, I noticed her shivering, but when I asked whether she was cold, she responded with a defiant, “NO”.

willpower alone is not enough

I could see she was freezing, wrapping her scarf around herself, trying to warm up her hands and her arms. And yet, because her desire to smoke was so strong, she denied all the physical signs her body was giving her – and me. Why?

Her intellectual mind was probably telling her that if she admitted she was cold, I would suggest we went inside where she wouldn’t be able to smoke. She chose to ignore her subconscious mind (her body telling her she was freezing) because she wanted and perhaps needed to keep smoking.

Belinda wasn’t trying to give up smoking at that point, which is perhaps as well, because she wasn’t tuned into her subconscious mind at all. But this story shows just how powerful our subconscious mind can be – giving out clear warning signals. Equally important to recognize is that our subconscious mind cannot lie, and so unwittingly betrays us.

How I quit

I eventually (after many failed attempts) quit smoking about twenty years ago. Only in retrospect, do I now understand how and why I succeeded. I had succeeded because my decision had not only been a conscious one, but a subconscious one.

The reason I tried to quit was my life insurance premiums, which were going through the roof and the only way to halve the premiums was to stop smoking. I could see the impact giving up smoking would have on my finances – but it wasn’t enough.

willpower is difficult

I could have surrendered my life insurance policy to save on all my premium payments, but that would have put my wife and two young daughters in jeopardy in the event of my untimely death. This was the emotional trigger that was needed for my subconscious mind to align itself with my conscious decision.

This time it was personal. I was emotionally invested in giving up for good. My intellectual and subconscious mind were now working in tandem. The impact of this shift was profound and frictionless. I went cold turkey – no patches, no substitutes, just determination.

So, here’s the deal – shift the emotional blockages and you will succeed at whatever you set your mind to. And you don’t need to wait until next January to try!

George Jerjian
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