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Willpower vs. Stubbornness


What are your goals? Do you want to lose weight, get into a certain college, or start your own business? Having an idea of what you want to achieve in life is great but there might be something standing in the way of you achieving those goals: Stubbornness. At first you might think that Stubbornness is good, that it will give you the stick-to-itiveness to make it to the finish line, but it will only make things worse.

On the outside, Willpower and Stubbornness both look the same: someone not giving in to an external force. But there are many things going on just below the surface that show how Willpower works in your favor and Stubbornness ultimately works against you. Here are four ways to tell the two apart to make sure your goals don’t get blindsided by a big dose of Stubbornness:

1. Stubbornness is arrogant; Willpower is humble.  

Willpower is fueled by the understanding of how things ought to be. Willpower knows the truth about your goals and how they will be achieved. Let’s say your goal is to get a good grade on a difficult final exam. Your Willpower is well aware that it will take hours of studying to ace the test. Stubbornness, on the other hand, is entirely out of touch with reality. It believes that you are awesome, so awesome that you don’t need to study at all for that test. It might even convince you that studying is a sign of weakness as it means you are not believing in your own intelligence. Be wary of falling into Stubbornness’ ego-boosting trap. I am sure that everyone reading this article is innately awesome but there is no way you will get to your goals if you let ego-boosting Stubbornness behind the wheel.

2. Stubbornness cares about instant gratification; Willpower cares about the future. 

Stubbornness has a way of distorting things. It makes what you want in the present look so amazing, fulfilling and important while making the future consequences look not as real or as drastic as they might be. For example, you are already convinced by Stubbornness that you don’t need to study for the test. After you let Stubbornness in, it starts to mess with your mind. The things that would bring about instant gratification—sleeping too long, Netflix binging, hanging out with your friends till late at night—seem all too tempting and important. Stubbornness doesn’t let you see the negative outcomes as badly as they could be. You think you might get to take the test over or come back for one more semester if you fail. In reality failing the test could mean loosing a scholarship and an extra semester might be an extra financial burden.

Willpower keeps the future in mind in all situations. It knows that staying up all night with your friends or spending the whole day watching TV sounds great but it’s not more important or more enticing than working towards what you really want long-term. It’s alright to give yourself a break and have some downtime but make sure that downtime doesn’t make you lose sight of your goals or why you need to accomplish them in the first place.

3. Stubbornness has no off switch; Willpower knows when enough is enough.

Regardless if you are using Willpower or Stubbornness, it is possible to push yourself too far. And sometimes, it’s not always apparent to you when you have gone too far. For example, you have really made an effort to get healthy, you start your mornings with green juice, you go to the gym, you count your calories and your steps. But this healthy activity is getting a little out of hand. You spend hours and hours exercising to the point of injury and your calorie-conscious diet is starting to get in the way of your social-life. Your friends might approach you and tell you that they are concerned about this over-zealous dedication to health and fitness. If you are listening to your Willpower, you will know that your friends mean well and that maybe you should reevaluate your “healthy” habits. But if Stubbornness gets thrown into the mix, it will make you think your friends are attacking you or are jealous of you. This well-intentioned comment might ignite you to work out harder just to spite them. Willpower is aware that the ultimate goal is to be healthy while Stubbornness has forgotten this goal altogether and has let selfishness take over.

4. Stubbornness is in denial; Willpower faces the hard truth.

Reality is tough to face which is why Stubbornness has a hard time accepting the truth as it is. Let’s say you’ve gained 20 lbs and you aren’t happy about it. Stubbornness will either ignore the problem, using arrogance to think that the weight will fall off without having to change a single unhealthy habit or it will demand that you stick to a plan that is destined to fail. In order to get rid of the extra weight, Stubbornness might trick you into thinking that you must lose that weight in a month, launching you into an unhealthy pattern of starving yourself and over-exercising. As soon as you are worn out by this unrealistic and demanding plan, Stubbornness will make you feel terrible for slowing down. Willpower on the other hand accepts the difficult challenge of losing the weight with a smart and realistic plan. Instead of demanding that you get to your goal as quickly as possible, Willpower will give you time to get there. First, you start by replacing your weekly pizza or burgers with salads, then you start being more active more and more each day. When that one day comes around where you slip up and choose comfort food over the treadmill, Willpower won’t make you feel bad, it will simply help you get back on track the next day. Willpower knows getting to your goals is a long journey that is worth the wait.

The Golden Takeaway: Go ahead and chase your dreams and go after your goals! Just make sure you are using Willpower, not Stubbornness, to get what you want.

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2 thoughts on “Willpower vs. Stubbornness

  1. Mary Kate says:

    What a great compare and contrast in these two words. Very helpful and so true. Thank you Veronique!

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