When is the last time you said to yourself, I just need more willpower so that I’ll … (fill in the blank: workout more, eat better, get to bed earlier, have a hard conversation, the list is very long)? Each and every week, we find ourselves not accomplishing the habits and decisions that are important to us. It can be a discouraging and frustrating experience.
The truth that I have discovered over years of study and working with people is this: willpower can be strengthened only when we realize that willpower is more of a result than a cause.
What is Willpower?
In other words, when people tell you, “Look, it’s just a choice. All you have to do is choose to get up earlier, not eat sweets, etc.,” they are missing the point. The reality is that our chooser (that is, our willpower) is actually the problem. You can’t willpower your way to success and health.
It is much more effective to think of willpower as a mental mechanism that needs to be fed and developed into a strength. Most people with great willpower are doing the behaviors that require this.
Improve Your Willpower
I believe there are three skills that will strengthen our choosers. Here they are.
#1: Write down your “why.” We tend to do what is important to us, what we value. It helps us focus our energies on those things we deeply love and care about. For example, the “why” of working out more maybe “because I want to be healthy enough to be with my family and love them for many years,” or “because I want to feel good and have my body do what needs to be done,” or both. The “why” gets you way beyond “just choose it.”
#2: Let those in your Life Team encourage you. Your Life Team is comprised of those safe and honest people in your life whom you trust. Tell this team about your challenges to develop better habits, and ask for their support. Have them text you a couple of times a week with simple encouragements, like “I know it’s been a busy week, but I’m pulling for you to get up early and workout. Thinking about you.”
Neuroscience research is proving to us how much energy and motivation comes from a simple, caring, encouraging statement from others. I am on a flight writing this blog and just sent one to a friend who is going through a very complex negotiation process in the company he runs. It took me one minute, and he replied instantly that it helped him continue on.
#3: Learn from failure. Don’t let the “judge” in your head say, “you blew it again, what a loser.” Failure is merely a learning curve. The only way to indeed fail is to learn nothing from it! So, why did you avoid that hard conversation? Was it because you were too busy, or feared conflict, or had second thoughts? Figure that part out, and forge ahead.
Make Better Choices
Willpower is a great servant but a poor master. Strengthen it, and you’ll make better choices. You will be amazed at the amount of energy and motivation that goes along with increasing your willpower. Change your mindset to focus on the “why.” Learn to accept (and give) encouragement.
And by the way, when your favorite “willpower” friend says “Well, just choose the right thing,” just say “So we don’t need to understand our reasons, or get encouragement, or deal with our obstacles?” Maybe it will help them, too.