Relying on willpower alone won’t work.
How many times have you decided to change a habit or do something new? Like, losing a few kilos, getting fit, saving money for a holiday. Or even something as simple as keeping your wardrobe consistently tidy.
As time goes by (even by the next day), you good intention slides away and you’re back to the same pattern.
Which is so deflating and wreaks of self-sabotage.
Most people blame willpower
Have you ever said “I just don’t have any willpower”? It’s as if willpower is something missing inside of you, your weak link, an underdeveloped muscle or a hidden power you can’t find when needed.
We’ve all heard at some point during our early life that willpower is the key to success. And, we believed it. Always focusing our efforts on willpower alone to do anything. To be honest, this doesn’t work. Luckily, neuroscience now knows different.
We all have willpower. Yes, even you. Your willpower muscle isn’t broken or weak. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with it. You’ve simply relied on willpower alone.
What is willpower?
Willpower is not a virtue or a thing that only successful people have. It’s not something hidden inside your body to be activated when you want to use it.
It’s a mind-body response to wanting to achieve something.
Willpower is your intent
The thought you have when you decide to do something.
You make a decision, a plan forms, you get excited and your conscious mind steps in to get you to take the first step. Willpower says “Yeah, I really want that. I’m going to do that”.
Like when your normal after dinner treat is eating chocolate in front of the TV but your new intent is to eat apple slices instead. You’re trying to override an ingrained habit (your automatic mind) from doing what it feels compelled to do.
Willpower gets you started
You see, willpower is your decision making superpower. It’s step one in the process. But, using it as the only tool in your toolkit to change a habit is like white knuckling. You are relying on hope alone that your automatic mind won’t take over. You really want to eat those apple slices. Yes you do! Then, you lose determination, focus or energy and next thing you know you’re sitting in front of the TV eating chocolate.
Instead, you need a plan
The key to long term change is adding the second part. It’s the action plan which will build new neural pathways in the brain for the healthier and better habit you want to create.
Step one = is the thought (willpower) – eg. No, I’m not going to eat the chocolate. I’m going to eat apple.
Step two = is the action plan – eg. I’m going to open the fridge and get out the apple slices I prepared earlier just for this situation. Then I’ll sit down in front of the TV and enjoy them.
Make an action plan
Think of a brilliant consistent action plan you instantly bring in after you have your intention thought (i.e where’s those apple slices).
The best way to do this is to plan ahead. Think about what you want to change, and put in place a plan to immediately bring in when willpower (your intentional thought) is instigated. Eg. have apple slices already to go in the fridge for after dinner. When you have the thought about chocolate, open the fridge and get out the apple slices out instead.
Here’s some tips on how to formulate and put in place a good plan, ready to put in place when needed and to begin building the new neural pathway for your habit:
- Pay attention – notice your patterns and habits, like a scientist collecting data.
- Get curious – replace judgement with curiosity. Instead of beating yourself up for falling prey to your old habit, instead, say to yourself “how interesting”, and think about what went wrong.
- Practice – the more you catch yourself in the old pattern and practice replacing the habit with your new planned one, the easier it will become.
- Be patient – new habits are not formed overnight. It takes consistency, persistency and good old repetition. Just like learning to drive a car.
Don’t reply on willpower alone again. Back up and support your willpower with an action plan.
Forward this blog to someone you care about. They can be your habit buddy.
With your consistently good habits in mind,
Create better consistent habits. Here’s how:
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