Whenever one wants to succeed in getting into shape, a few well known rules should be followed. First would be to warm up and stretch a bit, just to minimize the risk of injuries. Second, it’s necessary to push a bit harder each time. It’s actually quite tricky to figure the exact increase – go shallow and your progress might stall, go too deep and you might over train (and be unable to move properly over few next days – as I known myself, with my rapid return to Sunday morning squash being a touch too intensive). Third, some recovery time is necessary. Without it, one day your muscle will not be able to rebuild itself and you might get injured. The exact same rules apply to the single ability to pursue your goals and resist temptation, one that is allowing us to succeed at anything – the willpower.
“The more things you do, the more you can do.” – Lucille Ball
But why would you ever train it? After all, isn’t it obvious that once you have a big, fantastic goal, you’ll just chase it? It’s not that simple. The willpower muscle is used (and gets tired) every time we make a conscious decision to override things we are tempted to do (mindlessly stare at the TV while having some beer and pizza) in order to do things we know we should do (hit the gym, write that article). Think of it as a battery that depletes when used and recharges slowly when idle. Luckily, we don’t need to replace this battery. We can charge it a bit more and more. Let’s take a body-building approach.
First, the warm up. It’s good to have actual, detailed plan of how to get closer to whatever goal you’re pursuing. To give you an example – if I decide to “do some exercise” in the morning, that’s exactly what I’m likely to do. “Some”. If I sit in the evening and plan to do “8 series of 30 crunches, 30 squats, 30 push-ups, followed by 4 minute Tabata protocol elbow plank” in the morning, that’s exactly what I’m likely to do. Ironically, I “was going to do some writing” over whole last week. Yesterday, I planned to write this very article first thing in the morning – and here it is! So, removal of unnecessary decision points is the key. If the choice on specific action has already been made – why would you bother with making it again?
“He who fails to plan is planning to fail.” – Winston Churchill
By the way, do the same with distractions. After all, it’s nothing more than another decision point. Even small things, like disabling the audible notifications on your smartphone or turning off email software on your computer will give amazing results. Try it. Second, making our muscles stronger. Willpower is boosted by dopamine. The more successes along the way, the more focused on the goal you are. There are three important factors here, first being to actually know where you’re going. What is it you’re pursuing? What is the exact thing you plan to reach?
“No one ever wrote down a plan to be fat, broke, stupid, lazy, unhappy, and mediocre. Those are the things that happen to you when you don’t have a plan.” – Larry Winget
Number two is being focused. If, at the same time, you want to get to Tokyo and Singapore, you will reach neither. Well, you will get somewhere in between, which in this case would be the bottom of the ocean. Tempting, isn’t it? Pursuing two things at the same time, again, forces you to make a decision – amazingly, you’re likely to decide to go after neither of your goals and just do something else instead. Which, in our geographical example, could land you in Nowhere, Illinois.
Clearly, day by day, there’s a lot of things we want (and need) to achieve. I’m not saying you should stop doing everything in favour of one thing. Just do one at the time, maybe using some of known productivity hacks, like Pomodoro or personal Kanban.
Third element of making your willpower muscle stronger is to create habits. Fantastic thing about them is they’re nearly purely automatic. Even people suffering from aphasia (inability to match words to real life concepts) will reply to “good morning”, while they’re unable to say anything consciously. Turning your behaviour into habit has additional advantage – once it happens (which should take about sixty days), your willpower resources will be released and ready to help you pursue something else.
Finally, the recovery. There is a reason why every culture and religion has an off day. While our bodies don’t necessarily need that much rest (contrary to what you might think, we’re built for endurance), our minds do. That’s why the diets with “cheat day” (like Tim Ferriss’ Slow Carb diet) are more successful in the long run that ones that force you to eat some funny soups every single day for two or three months. So, schedule the day off. Next morning, you’ll be all rested, loaded with willpower and ready for action. Now, that all seems like a lot of work, doesn’t it? Well, to take another angle – can you actually afford not to do it?
“In the absence of willpower the most complete collection of virtues and talents is wholly worthless.” – Aleister Crowley
(Post originally published at my blog: worldshappiestcoach.com)