This post is part of a series of posts relating to the book Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Change. See related posts here.
The following conversation might sound familiar to many bishops:
Bishop: So you are struggling with pornography addiction?
Brother Neveragain: Well, Bishop, it has happened a few times but believe me it won’t happen again. Nooooo way! I can’t believe I did such a thing when so much is at stake! From here on out it will NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN!
Regardless of the sin, bishops hear claims like this all the time. Brother Neveragain is very convincing. He said it with determination in his eyes. He said it with a clinched fist. He PROMISED! ………..But then he left the comfortable bishop’s office-the sound of hymns are no longer fresh on his mind-the feeling to be better is distant. Now he’s in a dark basement all alone with his computer. Brother Neveragain then becomes Brother Relapse.
What you have just witnessed is the willpower trap. So many addicts leave it to personal willpower to lift them from addiction. The real problem with Brother Neveragain is that he is blaming his addiction on his lack of willpower. The authors of Change Anything call this tragically wrong.
It’s wrong because it’s incomplete. And it’s tragic because it gives us nowhere to go when we struggle to change our own bad habits or improve our lot. When people believe that their ability to make good choices stems from nothing more than their willpower-and that willpower is a quality they’re either born with or they’re not-they eventually stop trying altogether. The willpower trap keeps them in a depressing cycle that begins with heroic commitment to change, which is followed by eroding motivation and terminated inevitably by relapse into old habits.(Change Anything, chp 1)
If you allow Brother Neveragain to keep thinking he will succeed because of willpower, he will continue to fail and he will begin to think he can’t change because he “just wasn’t born with the willpower that success requires.”
The problem isn’t that he doesn’t have the willpower – the problem is that he is blind to those things that are encouraging the addiction. Brother Neveragain may go home and listen to hymns all day but he doesn’t consider the fact that his gloomy marriage is playing a major role in his addiction.
The next time you have Brother Neveragain in your office make sure he doesn’t walk out relying on his willpower.
To further understand the Willpower Trap check out the first video at the Change Anything website. It’s only 8:22 long and is quite entertaining.
Please post your comments below.