Q&A with Ben Hardy, Author of Willpower Doesn’t Work: Discover the Hidden Keys to Success

In your introduction, you say: “Willpower is for people who haven’t decided what they want in their lives.” What do you mean by this?

Willpower can only exist if you’re uncertain about what you want to do. Only when you become committed and then create conditions to achieve your goals does willpower disappear from your life.

Why is our environment such a key factor in our success (or failure) – and why don’t more people realize this?

Western culture is very individualistic…we think that if we just “work hard enough” we can do it. Hard work is a big part of the equation, but if that’s all you pay attention to, you’ll miss how powerful your surroundings can be in determining your success. Your environment is key to your success (or failure) because in reality, you and our environment are one. Who you are in one situation is different from who you are in a different situation. Your environment either pulls you forward, or pushes against you. In either case, your environment always wins. So it’s best to put yourself in an environment that pulls you the direction you want to go. Dr. Marshall Goldsmith put it this way, “If we do not create and control our environment, our environment creates and controls us.”

What are a couple of easy “hacks” each of us can put into place in our own environment to help us achieve our goals?

Leave your phone away from your body as much as possible.

Leave your routine environment regularly to get clarity and make big decisions-use your journal while you’re outside your environment and give yourself plenty of time to think. Try it and watch as clarity quickly comes.

Remove everything that conflicts from your values and goals. That can be stuff; it can also be people! Also, remove stuff from your environment that clearly doesn’t fit-like a TV in your bedroom. That’s a total mismatch and creates unhealthy triggers.

Tell people you’ll have something done in a short amount of time-this will create conditions that force you to be productive.

What are the common problems that people come up against as they are striving to change their environment … and how do you recommend overcoming them?

The biggest problem is believing you can beat your environment if it’s pushing against you. You can’t. The second challenge is feeling guilty for making needed changes in your life, because when you do, you’ll naturally disrupt the environments/lives of people you love. That’s why this is such a hard truth and it’s where the rubber meets the road. If you really want to change your life, you have to change your environment. And that effects other people. This reality stops many people from making the changes they needed to make-and it’s to the detriment of everyone involved.

How have you used your environment to achieve your goals in your own life?

Everything about my environment is set up to help me achieve my goals. I married a girl who holds me to a much higher standard than I could ever hold myself. We’ve got 3 foster kids who require me to show up every day and provide for and love them.

If each of us could do one thing different after reading your book, what would that be?

Invest in yourself. When you invest in yourself, your skills, and your relationships, you become more committed. Once you truly become committed, you’ll be willing to change your environment so your goals can become a reality.

It’s often been said that willpower is a “muscle” that can fatigue the longer we use it. Is that accurate, and why?

The research on willpower is actually quite controversial, and much of it has been debunked because it hasn’t be able to be replicated.

I think the idea of willpower being like a muscle is a good metaphor though. We’ve all experienced it. The longer you try to resist a temptation the harder it becomes. Eventually you crack and pull you smartphone out again, or grab that bag of chips.

In my opinion, willpower is the product of two forms of conflict: internal and external. You haven’t come to the point of internal commitment and you haven’t created conditions to make your commitment happen.

You talk a lot in the book about “enriched environments” being crucial for optimum performance – what are those, and why are they so important?

An enriched environment, by nature, is where you’re fully immersed in what you’re doing. Either you’re 100% on or 100% off.

In enriched environments optimized for positive stress, you’re being forced to rise to challenges you’ve never done before. The consequences for failure are real. You’re totally in flow. No distractions.

In enriched environments optimized for recovery, you’re completely detached-psychotically and physically from work and other responsibilities. You’re totally resting, recovering, and resetting.

Both of these environments are required for optimal performance and growth. And both are rare. Most people are usually distracted at work and distracted at home. Never fully on or off.

Part of using your own environment to spur your success means getting comfortable with discomfort – you have to push yourself beyond what you think you can do. Talk about this phenomenon and why we should strive to grow into your goals.

Human beings are very adaptive-both to the positive and the negative. When you put yourself in an environment surrounded by people far more successful than you, the mirror neurons in your brain fire and you begin to positively adapt. Tai Chi world champion Josh Waitzkin explains how he became world-class. He applied a principle he called, “Investing in failure,” where he would always practice with people several skill levels above him. His intention: to fail as hard and fast as possible. It’s like touching the stove-you learn much faster from raw experience, and thus, you advance much faster as well.