4 min read

Willpower vs Imagery

A Statement
CC Jen Gallardo

 I hear these words every day, ‘I really don’t have any willpower’ or ‘this is why I come to you so I don’t have to have the willpower to go to the gym’ and I’ll be honest, I’ve never had a great response to that lack of imagination.

Until now…

Now that we’re done with the pseudo-long-dramatic-pause, I can tell you that success is not a matter of willpower.

In fact, most successful individuals would tell you that it was their unwavering consistent effort that led to their success.

We are often looking for ‘willpower’ — and often motivation — as if it is this long lost prophecy, when we need not go so far in our search.

We are each very easily capable of motivating ourselves when the reason why is compelling enough.

How do I know?

Well, Dr. Peter Jensen, 6 time Canadian Olympic Team Psychologist and smart guy to boot, introduced me to the concept of imagery in weight loss.

It turns out that failure in all walks of life is often blamed on a lack of will.

According to Dr. Jensen though it may actually be a lack of imagination that is holding us back.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” ~ Albert Einstein

Ever heard someone start a sentence with, “I can’t imagine…?”

I’m sure you have, well it turns out this has a strong correlation to how your brain actually conducts business.

Maybe that’s why so many people use it.

Most people cannot even imagine themselves as fit or healthy, citing things like, ‘this is the way I’ve always been,’ or ‘I’ve been like this ever since I can remember.’

This is the mental block that is truly holding them back, not their lack of motivation to go to the gym or their lack of consistency in their diet.

Effectively though, people cannot accomplish things they can’t imagine completing.

Images are the language of the right brain, we then aim to use words to translate symbols and feelings verbally.

We need to then transfer our words and our interpretation of other’s words, into images, for that part of the brain, to make full use of them.

When we can’t literally picture ourselves accomplishing the task, we don’t, then blame our will.

This is the powerful impact of the brain on our health and fitness, that goes well beyond nutrition and exercise.

We’ve, over the long-term, conditioned ourselves into believing we cannot become fit, eat well, and otherwise lead healthy lifestyles. We simply cannot imagine what life like that looks like.

To the extreme, the majority of people I’ve worked with over the years have some crazy pre-conceived notion as to what ‘healthy’ actually looks like.

They see someone who exercises hours a day, eats plain organic chicken breast and heaping piles of boring veggies at every meal, perhaps they are all vegans/vegetarians and healthy people can’t possibly live fulfilling social lives.

Needless to say these assumptions are often way off, and imagining something as impossible, leads only to the impossible. Most really fit people I know, love food, like myself, we just enjoy the quality over quantity.

This all really makes sense when we think about the amount of stress placed on imagery in sports psychology.

Some of you may know about this; the art of picturing in your head how you score a point, the sound of the net, where the ball makes contact on your foot or hand, the smell of fresh grass or sweaty basketball court, all of these sensations are what contribute to our imagination and consequently our success in a lot of things.

Again, if you imagine the impossible, it will be impossible.

Instead redirect your thoughts, PR folks would call this ’spinning’ a story into positive light.

It may take some work, this is no over-night solution, but if you start now constantly imagining yourself the way you’d like to be, you may find yourself 6 months from now, pretty darn close to that.

Images are ‘events’ to the brain and the brain cannot distinguish between what was imagined and what is real.

The neural pathways of a movement or success for instance can be triggered, simply by imagining it happening.

This alone can set forth a chain of events to take you closer to your goals or ambitions.

It’s not that you lack motivation or willpower, it’s actually that you lack the ability to imagine what that accomplishment looks like. The objective should be then to focus in detail on what you want to accomplish.

Try this exercise:

  1. Write down something you want to accomplish.
  2. Close your eyes and develop a vivid picture about what you will see when you accomplish this, write it down.
  3. Close your eyes and develop a vivid picture about what you will hear when you accomplish this, write it down.
  4. Close your eyes and develop a vivid picture about what you will feel/touch when you accomplish this, write it down.
  5. Close your eyes and develop a vivid picture about what you will smell when you accomplish this, write it down.
  6. Close your eyes and develop a vivid picture about what you will taste when you accomplish this, write it down.
  7. It need not be all the 5 senses but perhaps the senses that are most vivid for you as an individual.
  8. Refer back to these mental images by reading what you write and then trying to find those images several times through the process, especially when you are lacking ‘willpower.’
  9. Repeat and deliberately practice this skill at regular intervals, not just when you are lacking willpower.

The objective here is to establish a clear picture of what is expected in order to complete something.

Clear expectations, in the form of images, can create belief and consequently motivation.

Pioneering psychologist, Emile Coue, said, ”when the imagination and the willpower are in conflict, it is always the imagination that wins, without exception.”

This is to say that if you imagine something other than success, then you will probably find failure, keep re-framing until success feels possible.

This is an important lesson for people who have yet to take the leap into body transformation or healthy living.

Emile Coue went on to say, “when the imagination and the willpower are harmoniously pulling in the same direction, irresistible force is the result.”

Therefore, if you can imagine it clearly, you will no longer be seeking motivation, you’ll be trying to figure out how to explain your success. Seek to imagine what you desire clearly.

Additional Reading:

Why Willpower Won’t Work