Why Will Power Won't Work


When dealing with a porn or sex addiction, the often-quoted advice is from the line from the old Bob Newhart T.V. show when Bob simply says, “Just stop it.”

While that directive may seem like sound guidance, it is a lot harder to do than to say. 

How many of us have said, “I will never do that again,” only to do it again? How many New Year’s resolutions have we broken? How many broken promises have we made to ourselves and others? How many times have we said, “This is the last time?”

The infamous Rolling Stones song, The Last Time, may best express most of our experiences attempting to will our way to change.

Well this could be the last time.
This could be the last time.
Maybe the last time.
I don’t know, oh no, oh no
— Rolling Stones

Will power just does not seem to be as effective as we make it out to be. There just may be a lot more to getting free from a porn or sex addiction than just trying to will our way to wellness.

Will Power Breaks Down Without Healthy Habits

In an article in Psychology Today, Susan Heitler Ph.D., explains why our willpower won’t work when we are faced with triggers, impulses, and urges when fighting the temptation to act out in unhealthy behavior. 

She explains,

Because the mind goes “backbrain" (being controlled by the automatic pilot part of the brain instead of the thinking part) with elevated emotions, it's too late then, in the midst of a stressful moment, to depend on sheer willpower to manage your self well.  The better strategy is to build habits that will stand you in good stead when you need them. 

Her advice is to develop healthy habits that become automated — doing the same healthy behaviors over and over until they become automatic responses, even when facing tempting and/or stressful environments and stimulus.

Charles Duhigg, in the book, The Power of Habit, argues that will power is not enough to bring about the changes we want in our thinking and behavior. 

He outlines 3 keys to effective habit change — cue, routine, and reward, which help to visualize and affirm the desired change.

If we are relying on will power without the development of healthy habits, we will not have the resolve to withstand the temptation to continue our unhealthy behavior.

For example, I love pizza — especially pepperoni and sausage, with extra sauce and cheese, but it is not the most healthy food group for me. I’m trying to control my craving, but throw a pizza in front of me when I’m hungry, and I’ll probably devour a large in one sitting…unless, I have already eaten something else — Something healthy.

The Need For Coping Skills and Confidence

In the article, Willpower versus “Skillpower:” Examining How Self-Efficacy Works in Treatment for Marijuana Dependence, Mark D. Litt, Ph.D. and Ronald M. Kadden, Ph.D. report that their research studies showed that self-efficacy (confidence in the ability to stop) was much more effective than sheer will power in overcoming marijuana dependency. 

Moreover, developing healthy coping skills and reducing emotional distress increased the effectiveness of self-efficacy.  In other words, the more tools you have to get healthy and live wholeheartedly, the more confidence you will gain in changing your habits, and stopping destructive thinking and behavior.

Refocusing Our Will Power

Certainly, a certain amount of will power is needed to get free from a sexual addiction, but we need a lot more than just will power. 

Will power just will not work without an intentional plan to begin building healthy habits that promote wellness.

Instead of trying to “white knuckling” your way to freedom, why not use your will power to begin building alternative healthy habits that promote whole-hearted living and wellbeing.

If this blog has helped you, let us know.  We would love to hear from you. 

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