Author Benjamin Hardy combines personal experience with decades of research to show that developing willpower is not the secret to achieving goals. Instead, crafting an environment that encourages success will propel achievement further.
What Willpower Won’t Accomplish
The prevailing advice for accomplishing goals is to persevere. Refuse to eat the sugary snack. Put in more hours at work. Run harder. Research more. Always push yourself a little bit more. What other way is there to get to the next level of performance expect to deny momentary indulgences and press harder and longer than the competition.
The problem with this thinking is that it doesn’t work. Willpower is quickly depleted. When I’m hungry, I want something to eat now. If chips are easily accessible, much quicker and more satisfying than a salad, that’s probably what I’ll eat. Even as an Upholder, I run out of willpower. It’s too exhausting to work out. Or I don’t have time to spend on a hobby that could turn into a passion.
We can’t power through our whole lives. Everything should not be a struggle. We only have so much energy and willpower. Something has to be outsourced. So what do we do when willpower just doesn’t cut it?
How do you Overcome Lack of Willpower?
In his book, Hardy explains that we have to establish an environment in which it is easier to make the right decision than the wrong one. We’ve heard if I want to avoid junk food, I shouldn’t buy it in the first place. If it’s not in the house, I can’t eat it. It would take more effort to put on my shoes, drive to the store, wait in line and pay than to eat the fruit sitting on the counter.
This works for other goals as well. If my goal is to be more present with my kids, I need to leave my phone, tablet and book in another room. Hardy says he goes as far as leaving his phone in his office on the weekend. It would be cumbersome to drive all the way to the office just to check text messages. So he doesn’t.
Creating enriched environments makes it easier to make good choices. In fact, it sometimes eliminates the choice all together. Setting a public deadline means that other people expect results. Most people don’t want the social or employment repercussions of disappointing people who were counting on them to have something done. A little extra work or bigger decision at the beginning can lead to a much easier time following through in the weeks and months to come.
A Relaxed Enriched Environment
Another enriched environment that does not get enough attention in our highly connected and competitive society is rest and rejuvenation. It may sound counter-intuitive that recovery time is enriching. However, “in order to become elite at anything, you need to continually shift from highly demanding environments to highly restful environments.”
A runner needs recovery time to improve. Physical structures that are in abusive environments don’t last nearly as long as those in climates with a variety of good and bad weather. The same is true of our mental capacity. Taking breaks, real and lengthy breaks, helps us to recover and be even better when we return.
Creative people rarely develop their best ideas while sitting in a chair staring at a computer screen. Time to let the mind wonder wherever it will commonly leads to break-throughs that other environments discourage. The eight hour work day and forty hour work week is perfect for manual labor that depends on a task being accomplished as quickly as possible. However, research shows that eight hours per day is much too long for many modern careers that depend on creativity and ingenuity.
How do I Improve my Willpower?
The biggest key to meeting goals is not relying on willpower alone. Structuring the environment to create peak working state is the easiest and most effective path to goal achievement. Hardy recommends a weekly planning session to clarify goals, obstacles and necessary tasks. Before taking on the task of planning for the future, he recommends we cultivate a peak state to work from.
A peak state is the carefully designed environment in which we work best. I generally work from home. Unfortunately, this means that my notes from an interview may be by my computer or they may be under a pile of homework and first grade art creations. While I’m working I can see the piles of laundry and the dirty dishes. I have the temptation of the Netflix remote and the book I’m reading. This is not peak state material.
My space is not conducive to easily achieving goals. With two adults and four kids in a small-ish space, I’m going to have to be more creative in building a peak state and flow in work. Once I can achieve this state, I can dive deep into a realistic look at my current situation and my goals. I can make plans and make decisions that I don’t have to revisit. I can set myself up for success. A journal is a great place to think all of this through.
What Does it Mean to have Willpower?
Fortunately, building willpower does not mean I become a lone wolf, dashing past the competition and standing alone on the mountaintop of success. While I don’t want to remain in a state of being completely shaped by the people around me or the events I find myself in, I also don’t want to be disconnected from my environment.
The opposite of this socialize self thinking is to only ever be concerned about ourselves, our goals and our ambitions. We see this reflected in many self-help books on the market, the idea that we are only responsible for ourselves and are on a quest to become the best people we can be. While this is certainly an improvement, there is a better choice.
The truly successful person that utilizes her willpower is adaptive. Hardy defines this stage as when “what is right is far more important than being right. Context, then, determines what is right.” It’s the ability to see the whole picture. We can separate ourselves from our goal and accomplishments. We are motivated to do the next right thing, but we also want to see other succeed and work together on any number of goals. This will include studying those who are more advanced in order to advance my own skills. I should be open to new ways and methods so I can see more success and contribute to the group in which I’m working.
How do I Strengthen my Willpower?
The first thing I plan to implement from this book is the journal. It’s something I have wanted to do for awhile, but never find the time in my schedule to do it. I already have a weekly planning session on Sunday where I set up my bullet journal for the week. In this, I include all of our activities, to-do lists and meal plan. I need to add to that my goal planning session.
Don’t forget to grab your free copy of my journal prompts that I have started to use. Taking as little as fifteen minutes each week to think about my goals will help me to get a better picture of where I’m going and how I can course correct before there are large or out-of-control problems.
A few moments of honest reflection will help me to evaluate the previous week and make the next week better and more productive. Journaling will also help me be crystal clear as to what my goals are and what steps I need to take. The goals could be anything from healthy lifestyles to huge career leaps. I can’t get there unless I know where I’m going.
No Willpower, No Problem
What goals are you working on?
What changes in your environment can you use to make it easier on yourself?
How can you plan your day so you have few decisions to make and more peak state working time?
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