Willpower and skillpower

5 August 2016

I very much enjoyed Disease-Proof: The remarkable truth about what makes us well by Dr David L. Katz and Stacey Colino. Despite the terrible title!

One of the many terrific points in the book is that it’s never enough to rely on willpower to achieve something important. They explain:

“where there’s a will, there’s really just a will. It’s an important first step, but it’s not enough. You also need a way, one that you can identify and consistently be able to follow.”

The “way” is skillpower. It consists of “skills, strategies, resources, and tools that… empower you [and] overcome the obstacles you face”.

As well as being necessary to achieve big outcomes, skillpower also makes the task easier. They explain that “Having the right skillpower makes a task easier, thereby reducing the amount of willpower you will need to get the job done”. 

As an example:

“You wouldn’t blame yourself for failing to reach the summit of Mount Everest without having mountaineering skills. In the absence of such skills, you’d have no business even trying!”

This is clearly applicable to nutrition and living a healthy life. If you don’t know what you should be eating and doing, then the best intentions in the world won’t help you. 

As well as introducing the broad concept of “feet, forks, and fingers“, the authors introduce a number of “rules of external discipline”, including:

  1. Avoiding fast food
  2. Drinking water
  3. Eating salad
  4. Getting some amount of exercise daily
  5. Prioritising sleep
  6. Plan your eating and only eat when it is the primary activity
  7. Eating food (rather than “edible food-like substances”, as Michael Pollan would say).

Of course, the insight doesn’t just apply to health and wellbeing.

It applies to our financial lives, our social lives, and even our internal lives. If we want to achieve important things, the desire is important. But the skills, strategies, resources, and tools – the skillpower – are essential too. 



About the author 

Sonnie Bailey

In his spare time, Sonnie likes telling people that he’s a former Olympic power walker, a lion tamer, or that he is an orthodontist. He is none of those things. In reality, Sonnie is a financial planner based in Christchurch. Through his business, Fairhaven Wealth (www.fairhavenwealth.co.nz), he provides independent, advice-only, fixed-fee financial planning services. Sonnie is a “recovering lawyer”: he has specialised in trusts and personal client work. He has also worked as a financial services lawyer for many years.

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