How often have you tried to achieve a goal that requires a lot of willpower?
How often have you failed?
So many goals can feel almost impossible, because they need a constant commitment to changing our usual ways. If you’re trying to lose weight, get out of debt, cut out the procrastination or even brush your teeth twice a day, you’ve got to keep on making the right choices – and it’s all too easy to let a moment of weakness derail your plans completely.
Exercising willpower or self-discipline takes up a lot of energy.
I’m sure you’ve had the experience of starting several new goals at once (perhaps in January) – trying to get fit and quit smoking and cut your spending and read more books. Chances are, you didn’t manage to stick with any of them – your willpower was simply stretched too thin.
So, are you doomed to fail? Of course not. You just need to make sure you’re using your willpower the right way.
How Habits Work
Unlike willpower, habits don’t require a massive amount of energy. They’re automatic – like taking a shower in the morning or putting on your seat belt when you get into a car. You barely think about them.
When you’re using your willpower to make changes in your life, you’re going against many of your established habits. For instance, if you’re trying to lose weight:
You’re cutting out the usual doughnut with your morning coffee
You’re switching from a fast food lunch to a healthy sandwich
You’re trying to exercise in the evenings, instead of flopping in front of the television
The problem is, it’s all too easy to let things slide. If you stop at the coffee shop every morning, those donuts will be there, tempting you. If you have to walk past three fast food outlets to get to a store that sells healthy sandwiches, there’s a good chance the lure of a burger and fries will be too much for you. And once you’re at home in the evening, how likely is it that you’ll get up from the sofa and go out to the gym?
Use Your Willpower to Set Up New Habits
Instead of fighting your habits, turn them around.
It’s much easier to use your willpower once to set up a good habit than to keep on struggling again and again to overcome a bad habit.
For instance, if you want to save $100 per month, then don’t force yourself to write out a check every time. Instead, set up an automated transfer from your bank account – that way, the money will go out without you lifting a finger. It becomes more effort to not save than to save.
When you’re trying to establish a new routine, do your best to find ways to break old habits. Don’t stop at that coffee shop, intending to order a skinny latte (chances are, you’ll end up with a full-fat cappuccino and a doughnut). Instead, cut the coffee shop out of your routine altogether. Go to a smoothie bar instead, or take a thermos of coffee with you.
Here are a few other ways that you can use willpower once to make a new habit easier than an old one:
Freeze your credit card in a glass of water – so that you have to melt the ice before you use it
Clear all the junk food out of the house – so that if cravings strike at 9pm, you won’t be able to dig into your candy stash
Block any websites that you waste time on – so that you can’t just flick to them in moments of boredom
Sometimes, you might not be able to use willpower just once – but you can try exercising willpower at the start of the day (when your motivation levels tend to be higher). For instance:
Put food in a slow-cooker in the morning – so that a healthy meal is waiting in the evening
Throw your gym kit into the car – so that you can drive to the gym on your way home
Set your alarm half an hour earlier – so you’ve got time to work on a goal or project that’s important to you
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