Willpower is not enough (even for Perfectionists)

Perfectionists expect willpower to help them reach their goals…

…but willpower is not enough.

As you probably know, perfectionists are good at focussing on an outcome. Indeed, we are almost obsessively attached to outcomes because we misguidedly think they will bring us happiness.

“When I get that promotion, then I’ll be happy/feel better/fulfilled/make my Dad proud/have time to prioritise my health/have Instagram-worthy holidays/house renovations.”

“When I am more organised, then I’ll be a Good Mum (because I’ll not be snapping at my kids/getting stressed before school/cooking healthier food/be less tired).”

Sometimes having this outcome as a motivator can work. We focus on it, and can say no to the things that take us away from it. We seem to have the willpower to see things through to reach an outcome.

Other times, it doesn’t work.  We seem to sabotage ourselves, and fail to prioritise this outcome, and we can’t understand why. Then our self-talk gets more critical and judgmental and we feel ashamed because we ‘failed’.

The thing is…because willpower works some of the time, we expect it to work all of the time. We often don’t expect or prepare for possible ‘set-backs’ or challenges along the way.


Research has shown that willpower is not an infinite resource, it does actually run out. We know this intuitively when we reach for the chocolate or wine after a busy, decision-laden day.  

Of course, there are practical ways of dealing with our finite supply of willpower. In my Heartspace group we’ve been talking about the Four Rules of Behaviour Change.  Encouragingly then help us establish effective habits that don’t rely on willpower alone.

But there are other
factors that will impact our success when we are trying to reach a specific goal or outcome.


As women we have monthly hormonal cycles that can dramatically impact our energy, motivation, mindset & outlook. Sometimes they even influence whether we actually want a certain goal or outcome.

When we become mothers, our experience and hormones dramatically change our motivations, energy, priorities and goals. Then as we grow older, and our hormones change with the
peri-menopause and menopause, we find our motivations and energy change again.

Keeping this in mind will enable us to adapt goals when necessary, be flexible about expectations and open to new possibilities.


We all know that when we are not fully aligned with a specific goal, it’s really hard to fulfil.  This is usually not a black and white, good and bad situation. For example you might tell yourself that you want to lose some weight. You plan to start exercising and stop snacking on cake or biscuits in the afternoons.  

But then after a few weeks, you notice that you are still eating those biscuits and you have stopped going to the gym. You might tell yourself you are lazy or indisciplined, or useless, but what is really happening?

Sometimes it might be that you have too much going on, that there really are higher  priorities in your life.  And that’s OK. It might be that you haven’t set up your environment right, as James Clear highlights in his Four Rules of Behaviour Change.

Or it could be that you don’t really believe that losing weight will make you happy. In fact you actively disagree with the ‘rule’ that most of the traditional media and social media peddle – that all women should be thin and beautiful – and so you resist conforming to that.

On further reflection you could uncover that your ultimate goal is really to have more energy. And while that might be impacted by your weight, there are lots of other factors involved, and other outcomes that are not connected to weight at all. So you can change your goal, and because the outcome feels more aligned to you, you feel more inspired and motivated to make decisions that will support it. Any weight loss becomes a side-effect, not the primary motivator.


The voices in your head can also stop you reaching your goals. No, I don’t mean that you are going crazy.  I’m talking about the normal human experience of having numerous different ‘personas’ that want different things for us. I’m sure you’ve experienced the push and pull of these different parts or voices.

For example you might have a
part of you (often in control of your thoughts in the mornings!) that wants you to be healthy and fit ands encourages you to go running twice a week. But you might also have a part that prioritises you being comfortable (you can’t go out for a run in the rain!) or organised (I have to finish my work, and cook dinner before I can go for a run) or a ‘good mum/wife/friend’ (I can’t go on a run because my husband/friend/child wants to do something with me).

We often call this self-sabotage – but is it really? Isn’t it just the normal conflicting priorities and strategies of being human? Isn’t it just the ebb and flow of different energies, emotions, roles, personas and motivations of being a mother?

The problem comes when we berate ourselves for not having enough willpower to see things through. We call ourselves weak rather than digging deeper into which parts of us show up at different times, and therefore effect our outcomes.

Our life is the result of our daily decisions and these are impacted by the quality of our energy, and what is motivating us at any given moment. This can be impacted by our hormones, our values and the different voices in our head.

Willpower is not the only thing involved, and to expect ourselves to succeed by willpower alone is the real self-sabotage.

If you want to learn more about managing your Inner Perfectionist and the other voices in your head find out more here.


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