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Did You Know Limitations Can Liberate?

Steven Losardo, AMFT

As we try to adjust to life challenges, it is crucial to maintain both physical and mental health. Today, the drastic increase in remote work requires changing our wellness habits to adapt to our current surroundings. That said, the idea of elevating or even beginning at-home wellness can be easier said than done. Suppose for you this adjustment is not only tricky, but it also seems impossible. Further, you have been here before.

A recent visit to your dentist is a reminder of this dilemma. As you are getting a filling for a cavity, you can find some brief comfort. You have been thinking, “this filling will be my last, and I will 100% follow whatever my dentist tells me!” Unfortunately, the thought dissipates quickly, as your dentist comments about your gums and reminds you of the need to floss twice a day. It is the same reminder you have been getting since you were a twelve-year-old. You know the drill (no pun intended). Initially, you will get home and floss the routine works to perfection. In a month, you cannot execute no matter what you try.

Today, the thought of beginning sustainable at-home wellness seems like some trick! In light of your flossing routine, you sarcastically think, “this will be a piece of cake.” After all, flossing is one thing, but wellness brings fitness, clean eating, and mindfulness to your self-care operation. The only “piece of cake” you see are the three you eat as your go-to when things fall apart.

Amid your internal dialogue, a part of you is fully aware that the unhealthy thought pattern creates false evidence that can lead to undesirable behavior of trying, failing, and eating cake to soothe. You also realize the emotional sensation you are experiencing as you ponder adding wellness as part of your everyday life is somewhat confusing and disheartening. You know you are stuck! Is there a way to have your cake and self-care too? You take a break from the worry and begin to recall positive outcomes. In particular, one flossing endeavor went for almost two years. There was higher self-esteem as there was willpower to make it happen. However, you were moving forward without waypower, and lacking that halted the success.

Willpower and Waypower

Willpower, per the American Psychology Association (2012), “is the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.” It is a limited resource capable of depletion. Examples are the ability to delay gratification, resisting short-term temptations for long-term goals, and the capacity to override unwanted thoughts, feelings, or impulses (APA, 2012).   

Waypower is the mental capacity to create roadmaps that guide us to our goals (Kholghi,  2021). We need both willpower and waypower working together to achieve the goals and put in the work. Combined, they ensure your approach works, you persevere, and you find solutions to obstacles. One way to connect willpower with waypower is by having goals and a process to obtain them.

Grade the moment and KNOW where you are:

Before beginning to write out a process, check-in on your willpower and depletion when there is exposure to an emotionally charged stimulus. You will know that you have willpower if you are rational, and your cognitive system does not lead to impulsive actions (APA, 2012). Next, look for past examples of positive life outcomes such as better grades, higher self-esteem, no substance abuse issues, financial security, and good physical and mental health resulting from self-discipline (APA, 2012). These highlight strength in your ability to maintain willpower and navigate any depletion. A history of resisting short-term gratification in pursuit of long-term goals or objectives is another indicator. Finally, you need to know your enemy. Look for negative beliefs, attitudes, and a lack of self-control from temptation, as these highlight problematic depletion of willpower (APA, 2012). 

In the blog’s example, the client can articulate a constraint, “the emotional connection is somewhat confusing and disheartening.” They name the situation, connect with the thoughts being unhealthy and navigate to a positive mood. When this happens, it is a good thing! However, there is still work here as they become more negative than positive connecting willpower depletion to their flossing outcomes. They lack the waypower to remove constraints and maintain willpower strength to floss twice a day over a lifetime. SMART Goals can be a solution for this. 

Identify the solution

SMART Goals from Cothran and Wysocki  (2012) make the targets Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timebound. They break goals into smaller achievable chunks, commit them to paper, and require steps that are not overwhelming. They allow you to pause and ask what makes this important to you, creating motivation. Being motivated will help you move past challenges and setbacks. Finally, adding relapse planning and a recovery plan to SMART Goals will be helpful. Planning highlights all the known ways this may not work, allowing you to set up guardrails for them. A recovery plan gets you back on track quicker when there is a failure.   

Critical Benefits of focusing on Willpower and Waypower

  •       Resiliency – You will notice a positive shift in your responses to failure, and you will stand by your commitment.  The SMART Goals provide a psychological, physical, relational, and systemic approach. All of which are attributes that create and sustain resiliency. (Walsh, 2016).
  •       Goals help make change happen and are sustainable. They also deepen the skill of identifying and involving assistance (Kholghi,  2021).
  •       Utilizing planning, strategy, and a process review to adjust goals will begin to create a repeatable procedure for this opportunity and ones in other areas of your life.


APA, (2012). What you need to know about willpower: The psychological science of self-control.

Retrieved on February 16, 2021 from  

Cothran, H. M., & Wysocki, A. F. (2012). Developing SMART goals for your organization.

Retrieved on November 23, 2018.

Kholghi, B. (2021). Waypower Definition in (2021). Retrieved from Coaching on

February 1, 2021.

Walsh, F. (2016). Strengthening family resilience, 3rd ed., Guilford press: New

York, New York.

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