The willpower paradox is the idea that people may do things better by focusing less directly on doing them. That is: the direct exertion of willpower may not always be the most powerful way to accomplish a goal.
This phenomenon is along similar lines as Marsha Linehan's account of Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Radical Acceptance. To move away from the "over-willfulness" mindset (which can be equated to "self will run riot") to Radial Acceptance, Linehan advocates turning the mind and allowing willingness to happen, similar to asking "Will I?". Willingness leads to radical acceptance, which in turn, can cause more permanent change.
One experiment compared the performance of two groups of people doing anagrams. One group thought about their impending anagram task; the other thought about whether or not they would perform anagrams. The second group performed better than those who knew for sure that they would be working on anagrams. The same researcher, Ibrahim Senay (at University of Illinois in Urbana), found similarly that repeatedly writing the question "Will I?" was more powerful than writing the traditional affirmation "I will".
Willpower and addiction
Michael J. Taleff writes, "Willpower in our field (Psychology) is a paradox". Addiction affected patients are told that willfulness is less effective than willingness. He also suggests Vohs and Baumeister (2009)  as a starting point to further delve deeper into this.
Liz Danzico makes reference to similar research work which concludes that setting your mind on a goal may actually be counterproductive.
Open-minded versus concentrated
In his book Obliquity: How our goals are best pursued indirectly, economist John Kay makes a paradoxical point that a broader, more open-minded approach was more successful than a narrow, more concentrated approach, especially when it comes to overcoming geographic obstacles, winning decisive battles or meeting global business targets.
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Will we succeed? The science of self-motivation.", ScienceDaily, 28 May 2010. Retrieved on 30 March 2012.
- Wray Herbert, "The Willpower Paradox", Scientific American, 26 July 2010.
- "Willpower", Counselor Magazine, 27 May 2011. Retrieved on 3 April 2012.
- Vohs, K.D. & Baumeister, R.F. (2009). Addiction and free will. Addiction Research & Theory, 17, 3, 231-235.
- "The willpower paradox"
- Kay, John (2010). Obliquity: Why our goals are best achieved indirectly. Profile Books. ISBN 978-1846682889.