Willpower Alone Won't Make You Successful

Willpower is vastly overrated.

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By Jeff Olson

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In my opinion, people too often attribute willpower to their success. The truth is willpower may help you make decisions and help you carry out those decisions despite inner resistance, but by itself, willpower isn't something you can rely on for the kind of growth and development you'll need to truly become successful. If you're set on accomplishing life-changing goals, you must have something else in addition to willpower -- you must have time.

Related: The 10 Traits That Define Entrepreneurial Success

A self-induced reward-and-punishment system

For most people, willpower ends up looking and feeling like a grim self-tyranny propped up by an arbitrary, artificial reward-and-punishment system, e.g., "I have to give up some of my favorite foods to be rewarded with losing weight." In other words, the reward comes at the expense of something else. The problem with this kind of thinking is that constantly denying yourself something is setting yourself up for failure. Here's proof.

According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, "The likelihood of self-control failure increases after a person has exercised self-control, as though initial efforts at self-control deplete an inner resource required for further volitional efforts."

Then again, if your goal is really important to you, wouldn't you find a way to accomplish it? Critically acclaimed speaker and author Eric Thomas says it best: "When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you'll be successful." If not, it makes sense you'll find excuses.

A consistent and persistent pursuit of goals

One of the most valuable things I've learned as the founder and CEO of my own company is that it's a person's willingness to work hard consistently and persistently over time that leads to success. Willpower only takes you up to a point before the amazing power of compound interest starts to work. Think of it this way: A seemingly insignificant error in judgment, compounded over time, will ruin your chances of success. On the other hand, a simple, positive action, repeated over time will increase your chances of success.

Let's consider an example! Jack Canfield and co-author Mark Victor Hansen set out to write a collection of stories to help inspire and motivate people to achieve their dreams. However, the duo was rejected 144 times over the course of a 14-month period. Today, as you may know, Canfield's Chicken Soup for the Soul is an internationally acclaimed brand that's sold over 500 million copies in over 20 languages.

Related: The Most Common Habit of Self-Made Millionaires

A magic number

In his 2008 book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues "ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness." Here, Gladwell theorizes success is within reach after at least 10,000 hours of practicing your craft, plus talent ... and opportunity. To support his theory, Gladwell explains how Bill Gates started coding as a teen. It was Gates's thousands of hours of practice and his exposure to technology at a young age that helped him build Microsoft. "The point is simply that natural ability requires a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest," writes Gladwell.

A great or not-so-great idea

Before his success with Microsoft, Gates -- who dropped out of Harvard University -- and his business partner Paul Allen launched a company called Traf-O-Data that aimed to process and analyze the data from traffic tapes. Today, Gates has a net worth of over $90 billion, but not before his Traf-O-Data venture was a complete bust due to the software's "unacceptably buggy" delivery.

Gates didn't give up and neither should you.

Related: 10 Things Successful People Tell Themselves Every Day

A time for a change

These days, having willpower isn't enough. You need to be in the game for the long haul. "If you're going to try, go all the way," wrote American poet and novelist Charles Bukowski. "Otherwise, don't even start."

Think about your own goals. How much time do you spend on working on your dream?

I'm not saying willpower isn't important. I've studied several articles in which writers argue that willpower is indeed the secret to success. "It's that thing that pushes you to the next level despite setbacks. It's that grit that drives Serena Williams to the next win. It's what compels Lindsey Vonn to race again -- even after a horrific injury," reads an article by former Entrepreneur Editor-in-Chief Amy Cosper.

Still, I don't believe willpower really drives change or creates opportunity. However, willpower combined with the compound interest of positive action over time -- now, that's a winning combination.

I'm reminded of what Mahatma Gandhi once said, "Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will." In many cases, willpower is temporary, which is why it's imperative to focus on committing to your goals over time. Willpower may drive decision-making but time helps you unleash your inner entrepreneurial beast.

The secret of time is simply this: Time is the force that magnifies seemingly insignificant things you do every day into something titanic and unstoppable. Consistently repeated positive daily actions compounded over time will bring unconquerable results.

Today is your turn. Take stock of where you are in your life and where you want to be. Live and breathe your vision and know that your time has come.

Jeff Olson

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer

Founder & CEO of Neora

Jeff Olson is the founder and CEO of Neora and is a leader in the direct sales industry. He's also the author of The Slight Edge, which shares the philosophy he used to achieve success as an entrepreneur and CEO. He aims to help others reach financial freedom and personal excellence.

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