Willpower works. But it is a limited resource that will eventually taper off and can leave you with your old habits. Use decision-making and rituals in addition to willpower to create lasting change.
People wonder how to get more willpower or complain that they don’t have enough of it, and for a good reason – willpower is necessary. Even its definition – the power of the human will to exert effort to oppose habitual impulse – shows how desirable and important it is.
And people look for ways to boost it. They exert effort, they use their power but very soon find that pushing harder and harder eventually results in giving up. It is not negative thinking. It’s the reality, and here’s why – willpower is limited. It is not meant to last.
So, if that is true, then it sounds like this would make willpower useless, wouldn’t it? Or, it would make it useful for something short-term. But is it really useless for long-term results?
Absolutely not. Your willpower is a limited but powerful resource that you must use wisely.
Willpower Enables the All-Important Momentum
In spite of a great variety of temperaments and inborn talents, let’s assume here – and this is very useful – that your willpower only lasts about 21 days. So, for 21 days, you will be smoke-free and alcohol-free, eat healthy, go to bed early, or exercise every day.
Great. After 21 days, however, the disciplines seem to erode, one by one, until they are all replaced back with the old habits.
But 21 days is a long enough time to allow you to gain major momentum and keep the changes – the shifts that you’ve worked so hard for – for long term. Two strategies will allow you to make it happen.
Strategy 1. Decision-Making
Many times in my life this powerful human ability – to make decisions – made tremendous changes possible. For example, I spent the entire year 2012 alcohol-free. It was a decision I made because I felt that year was going to be very important for me.
I had a lot of stuff to get done, and I knew alcohol was in the way, even if I drank seldom and in small quantities.
Decisions are powerful because if you make a true decision, meaning you knew why you did it, and what it would mean to you, then something powerful happens. The thought of breaking the decision doesn’t even enter your mind, or does so very rarely and without much power.
So, when I quit drinking alcohol for one year, throughout the year I wasn’t suffering at all or craving a drink very often. Sometimes a thought would pass through my mind, “It would be nice to have a beer on this hot summer day.” But it would leave as it came, because the mind was aware of the decision.
How to Use Decision-Making
The decision must be made before you begin the 21-day period of exerting willpower. The steps are simple:
- Decide what it is that you want.
- Decide why you want it. In other words, what will it give you if you achieved it.
- Sit down and consciously make the decision. It should sound like a complete sentence: “I stay away from cigarettes for the duration of [insert you desired period of time here]”
- Write down your decision.
I have found in the past that writing down the decision is not always necessary, especially if the motivation is crystal clear. But writing down what you want and why you want it is crucial because it gives you clarity, which is power.
Strategy 2. Rituals
Rituals are probably the most powerful instrument of change and productivity in anyone’s personal power toolbox. I would attribute most of my accomplishments to ritualizing my work.
I will devote a blog post, or perhaps even an entire program one day, to rituals. But for now, suffice it to say that rituals allow you to pick up from where your willpower has left off and make a lasting change.
For example, let’s say you decide that you want to exercise six days a week. You make a decision to take action, and you begin. The first week is exciting. The second and third weeks take tremendous willpower.
However, you make exercise your daily ritual. You know that you wake up every morning, drink some water, have a little snack, and you hit the gym. In other words, you don’t begin work, or watch TV, or do anything else prior to working out (except some water and a small meal).
This way, you are setting yourself up for doing your exercises on autopilot. It won’t be on autopilot during the first three weeks, because this is how long it takes to form a new habit. So, for 21 days you exercise your willpower and force yourself to go to the gym.
When the 21 days are out, now you have your ritual, and all you have to do is simply to wake up, drink your water and have your small snack, and you notice that your mind is automatically preparing you and your physiology for the workout.
Your heart rate is already picking up, you are mentally psyched, you are ready to go. A lazy thought can enter your mind, but it will be very weak at that point. It will be like, “Well, I know you are determined to go to the gym. I was gonna try and stop you, but what’s the use – you got the ritual now.” This is how your inner gremlin will treat your rituals.
How to Use Rituals
Here are a few tips that will help you set up some powerful rituals. You only need one to get started, and that’s your morning ritual.
- Begin by doing one simple thing every day, like drinking a glass of water. Do it every day until it becomes your ritual. Make sure you do it before you do anything else (Except, perhaps, your morning trip to the bathroom).
- After 7 days, add another action, like writing down your top one-year goals. So, now you’ll be drinking the water and writing down the goals.
- Next, add something that you really want to make into your habit. The earlier in the day and more prioritized in your ritual, the more power it has and the more likely you will be consistent with it.
- When you enter your 21-day willpower period, begin ritualizing starting on day one, so that by day 21 you have a well-established ritual, which is now really a habit.
- Make your decision prior to beginning the 21-day willpower period
- Enter the willpower period and be determined to stay with it for 21 days
- Ritualize what it is that you want to do regularly by stacking small actions, adding an action every week for as long as is necessary for you to have the ritual you want.
If you take this to heart and decide to try it, this strategy will reward you with a new empowering habit; perhaps more than one. Remember – habits form your character, and character shapes your destiny (as Confucius, Freud, and other masters discovered).
Till next time,