You Can Never Change Your Life Through Willpower. Here’s What Actually Works.
The opposite of addiction is connection.
Last week, I did one of the hardest workouts of my life with one of my friends. We were getting pushed by a very good trainer. And we were pushing each other.
I’ve never felt my legs burn like they did. I barely walked out of the gym. It was 30 minutes of pain followed by several hours of psychological ecstasy and insight.
While driving back to my friend’s house, he said, “There’s no way I could’ve done a workout like that by myself.”
The Problem of Willpower
When you think of the word, “Willpower,” do you think of “individual” or “together”?
Willpower is a solo-battle.
Willpower is all about the individual.
Willpower is trying to go it alone. Willpower is an attempt to win a silent battle. It’s the opposite of vulnerability. It’s the opposite of connection.
You’re As Sick As Your Secrets
Addiction expert and founder of Genius Recovery, Joe Polish, often says, “A person is as sick as their secrets.”
In the book, THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE, Bessel van der Kolk M.D. explains that traumatic experiences halt or “freeze” a person’s development. When a person experiences trauma, they usually keep their pain to themselves. Very rarely do they open up and share what they’re going through.
As a result, their pain gets suppressed. Hence, Dr. Gabor Maté explained in a recent interview with Tim Ferriss, “Trauma isn’t what happens to you, it’s what happens inside you.”
Trauma isn’t necessarily caused by tough experiences. It’s caused by keeping those experiences and the pain or confusion of those experiences to yourself. It’s caused by fighting silent battles. It’s caused by trying to go at it alone.
Addiction therapist and researcher, Arnold M. Washton, Ph.D. said, “Many people think that what the addict needs is willpower, but nothing could be further from the truth.”
Willpower is focused on the self. You can’t overcome an addiction on your own. As Johann Hari explains in his famous TED TALK, the only way out of addiction is through connecting with other people.
Addiction is all about context. So is all behavior.
The problem we face is that Western Culture is highly individualistic. We often ignore the power of environment and focus on individual traits we believe are key to success: such as willpower, mindset, grit, etc. Dr. David Hawkins explains in his book, LETTING GO, “It is the illusion of individuality that is the origin of all suffering.”
Most people fail to make positive change in their life because they are trying to do it all themselves. Their silent battles and attempts at willpower only suppress their pain further down.
We All Have Multiple Personalities
According to neuro-scientist, Candace Pert, PhD, in her book, YOUR BODY IS YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS MIND, we all have multiple personalities. Bessel van der Kolk M.D. agrees, explaining that certain sides of us are very well-developed, whereas other sides are radically under-developed.
Something may trigger you and all-of-a-sudden the scared 3-year-old version of you shows up. You don’t know how to cope, and you do anything you can to avoid the pain and confusion you’re experiencing. Addiction, then, is a solution to a problem. It’s a solution, albeit an unhealthy and temporary solution, to pain.
When a person gets stuck in their pain and individuality, Bessel van der Kolk M.D. calls it having a “frozen personality.” Which brings up another huge myth and misconception in Western Culture: the idea that we have a fixed and static personality — one we’re born with and one we die with.
We place a lot of emphasis on personality. We believe it’s the “real us.” It’s not.
Your personality is an adaptation to your environment. It’s also an adaptation to the suppressed emotions you have.
When you learn to connect with other people, and learn to get the help you need to heal your suppressed pain, your personality will change. You’ll no longer rely on your crutches. You’ll experience much deeper sides of life.
Beyond that, when you learn to connect with others, you open yourself up to growth and opportunity that could never be available to you with the “lone ranger” mentality.
Connection is the key to growth.
Connection is the key to overcoming addiction.
Connection is required for going much further than you could ever go on your own.
According to Harvard Psychologist, Robert Kegan, there is a 3-step model of “conscious evolution.”
Socializing-self = a person who is highly DEPENDENT. Everything they do is out of fear and anxiety. They do whatever they think other people want them to do.
Authoring-self = a person who is INDEPENDENT. They have their own goals, beliefs, and agendas. They engage in relationships so long as those relationships get them where they want to go. They get much, much further than people stuck in dependence. This level of conscious evolution is most prized in Western Culture, because we’re very individualistic. We’re not as focused on collaboration and connection. Instead, we’re obsessed with what individuals and “super-heroes” can do on their own. Additionally, as a society, we’ve become very addicted, and we’ve lost much of our ability and confidence to truly connect and be vulnerable. Which is why people like Dr. Brené Brown’s work is so important on vulnerability, connection, and courage.
Transforming-self = the highest stage of conscious evolution, which is far more reflective in Eastern Cultures, is where a person becomes INTERDEPENDENT. They no longer try to fight silent battles. They don’t attempt willpower to change their life. They recognize the importance of context and connection. They have their own goals, and views. But they can also see beyond their own mental frame and compare it with other mental frameworks, allowing them to continually weed-out unhealthy and limiting beliefs. Additionally, at this stage, a person has embraced vulnerability and collaboration — connection — so they are constantly doing work with other people where the whole becomes fundamentally different and better than the sum of it’s parts. According to Kegan, only this stage of conscious evolution is conducive to faith, because the actor trusts and expects that the best outcomes will come about, all the while not being obsessed or tied to a certain outcome.
You don’t just have one personality. You have multiple. And the more holistic you can live your life, and seek connection over willpower, the more you’ll be able to overcome past traumas, and the more you’ll be able to create a much bigger future.
According to Strategic Coach founder, Dan Sullivan, when two people come together who are living in their “unique ability,” they can go 100X bigger in their goals.
As Stephen Covey explains in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:
“Synergy is what happens when one plus one equals ten or a hundred or even a thousand! It’s the profound result when two or more respectful human beings determine to go beyond their preconceived ideas to meet a great challenge.”
Are you fighting silent battles?
Are you still trying to change their willpower?
Or, are you open to context and connection?
If you’re ready, you’ll surround yourself with other people who will help you go far beyond what you could ever do on your own. As Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” Similarly, Jim Rohn said, “Don’t join an easy crowd; you won’t grow. Go where the expectations and the demands to perform are high.”