When we're failing to reach our goals, we often blame a lack of willpower:
I've gotta try harder.
If only I could stay focused.
I need to be more determined.
I have to be self-disciplined.
The problem is, willpower alone won't get you far. You know that, really; you've seen the times in your own life when you tried to be determined and self-disciplined ... but when you still failed to reach your goal.
Maybe you tried to lose weight – but ended up scoffing junk food every evening.
Maybe you wanted to save money – but you couldn't resist that shiny new laptop.
Maybe you were going to take up exercise – but you just couldn't manage to get up early enough to hit the gym before work.
Every time, you probably blamed yourself. You felt lazy or stupid for not managing to stick to your plans. Perhaps you looked at friends or colleagues who were succeeding in similar goals – and you felt sure that they had some huge reserves of willpower which you lacked.
You felt like you just weren't cut out for success.
The truth is, willpower is hugely over-rated. We don't generally achieve things by gritting our teeth and struggling on manfully.
Why Willpower Doesn't Work
There are plenty of times when you've used willpower successfully. Maybe you:
- Resisted the lure of that chocolate cookie
- Made that difficult phone call
- Tidied up a messy room
- Said "no thanks" to a third glass of wine
The problem is, willpower is a limited resource. You can't stick to a diet by sheer willpower, day after day after day. And you've probably noticed that on days when you've been trying really hard to be patient or to stick with a tough task, you're more likely to crack and fail in a difference area.
So, if you try to improve your willpower – forcing yourself to rely on it, or even putting yourself in situations where you'll be tested – then you're just setting yourself up to fail.
What Works Instead
We're all creatures of habit. We tend to take the easiest route, or the one which seems most attractive – we need to apply our willpower to do anything else. Our daily environment (home, work, etc) makes far more of a difference than most of us realize. For instance, if you've got a vending machine at work, you're probably going to end up buying more snacks than you otherwise would.
Instead of fighting against your habits and environment, get them to work with you!
That means doing these sorts of things:
- Keep those tempting candy bars out of your house. If they're sitting within easy reach, chances are, you'll grab one without even thinking. But if you have to go to the store every time you want candy, your natural laziness will usually stop you…
- Make it hard to access distractions on your computer. Do you always end up playing flash games or checking Facebook when you should be working? Then block those websites. If you want to stop checking email first thing, then don't let the program load up as soon as your computer is switched on.
- Work exercise into your day. Instead of trying to get up at 5am, or drag yourself out in the evening, how about going for a brisk walk during your lunch break?
- Hide the TV remote so that you don't switch the television on as soon as you get home from work.
- Build a habit. If you're trying to establish something new in your life – like reading for 30 minutes every day – then find a consistent time and place for it. Once something becomes just another part of your routine, it's easy to keep it up.
- Chase goals that excite you. Of course, however awesome your goal, it's not going to inspire you every minute of every day – but it's much easier to achieve something which you want than something which you just feel you should do.