Tag Archives: willpower

3 Elements to Willpower

Willpower is like a muscle.  Like muscles it can be trained and developed to grow stronger. There are 3 key aspects to the development and strength of willpower:

  1. Energy:  Your energy level plays a vital role in how you engage and persevere through changes that you are focusing on.  Just like exercising, if your energy level is high, the workout is “easier” and manageable.  However, if your energy level is low, even the simplest of workout feels hard.  I am sure that you know and have experienced how much harder it is to focus or maintain self-control when you are tired.  It requires a lot of energy to concentrate and perform a task that requires attention especially if it is new.
  2. Difficulty:  The perceived level of difficulty will determine just how much willpower is required.  If a change or new habit is perceived at level 1 of 10, the required willpower is fairly low, hence much easier to change and takes a shorter time for a new habit to be developed.  Conversely if the perceived level of difficulty is 10, the required willpower is extremely high.  Therefore it is important to manage the perceived level of difficulty.
  3. Environment:  The environment that is supporting or hindering your attempts for change plays a part in either making it conducive or not for change.  The environment is made up of people around you, physical location as well as structures or routines that you have.  For example, if you want to make a change to your eating habits, surrounding yourself with junk food is going to make it hard for that change to take place.  It would be a supportive environment if you remove all junk food and replace it with healthier options.

How would you overcome those barriers?

  • Energy:  What do you need to do to ensure that your energy level throughout the day is consistent?  Do you know when your energy level is at its peak?  When are you most productive or creative?  What do you need to do to improve your energy level?
  • Difficulty:  Perception of difficulty is a mental challenge.  It is challenge to change the way we perceive a situation or action.  How would you change your perception of the change that you need to make?  Break down the challenge to smaller manageable task until it does not seem so scary.  What is the smallest part of the task to start off first?
  • Environment:  Explore areas of the environment that you could change or make slight changes to. Think of ways to support your desired change.  Leverage on technology, redecorate or redesign your work environment, change a certain routine that is not working for you and so on.

For example, if you want to be punctual for your meetings, what changes would you need to do?  You have tried putting your watch forward, scheduled multiple alarms and so on and yet nothing has worked.  It is time for a different approach.  Ask yourself

  • What is the importance of being punctual for your meetings?
  • How do you feel when others are late for a meeting with you?
  • What is the core value that is being impacted by someone who is not being punctual for a meeting?  Could it be respect, value of time, discipline or rudeness?
  • Identify the value system that it is impacted to give you the inner motivation that is required to change your actions.  It is that key that will give your willpower the starting fuel to get started.
  • What structure can I put in place?
  • How would you ensure that you start the day on time?
  • What do you need to do to ensure the meetings are run efficiently?
  • Do you need to put more buffer time for travel or meeting over runs?
  • Be in control of your schedule else others will be in control of you.

Once you have an idea, establish the task or action that needs to take place.  Then ensure that there is also a support structure to enable the actions to take place.  Schedule the hardest task for when your energy level is the highest.

There is only ONE MUST doUse it!  The willpower muscle must be used in order for it to grow stronger.  You must activate the Willpower muscle and to do you will need to make the decision and effort to do it.

Willpower the key to creating new habits

Every one of us has an inner desire to grow in knowledge and in character. We want to improve and be a better version of “me”. As we strive to be better in the intangible (knowledge, experience, skills etc), what is demonstrated to others around us is our actions or behaviours. We need to “act out” our intentions in order for something to happen. To perform any task, we need to be able to perform a serious of actions. Upon performing the same set of actions over and over, we are over time and repetition developing a habit.

Habit is a set of actions to complete a certain task that has become an automatic process. We don’t have to think hard in performing a certain task. For example, brushing your teeth. When you first learn this skill, it requires a lot of focus, energy and coordination to be able to maneuvers the toothbrush to brush each tooth without hurting yourself. After performing that same set of actions over time, it naturally becomes easier until a point where you don’t even have to think about it. You can now brush your teeth and probably do something else at the same time.

That is the power of habit. Once a series of actions have been repeated until it becomes automatic, it does not require much brain “power” to work at it, it makes it very efficient. There also lies the downside of habit. It is so powerful that it is hard to break or change a habit. Trying to break or change a habit is like pushing your car uphill with the handbrakes engaged. Our brains do not like the effort that it takes to make those changes because believe it or not, our brains are “lazy”.

How would you go about changing or creating a new habit? As mentioned, a habit is formed when we want to accomplish or achieve a certain goal. In order to achieve a certain goal, certain actions need to be taken. Upon reaching the goal, you will experience a reward. Therefore to create a habit, there are 3 areas:

  1. Goal: There needs to be a trigger to get the ball rolling.
  2. Series of actions or process: In order to achieve the specified goal, there must be a series of actions that needs to take place in order to make it a reality.
  3. Reward: What is the reward that you envision for achieving that goal.

As an example, to create a new sleep habit. The goal is to sleep for 7 hours every night. To achieve this goal, there needs to be a series of actions eg no technology an hour before bed, no sugary or caffeine drinks, do some yoga stretches to relax etc. The reward is a good night of 7 hours sleep. At the start, it will be hard and our “old” habit will basically be saying “no” to every attempt. That is where willpower comes in.

Willpower is the key to creating new habits. Willpower is basically your conscious mind saying “I am going to do this no matter what.” A decision or a choice that you are committed on doing regardless of what you feel. Willpower is also like a muscle, it grows stronger with use and time. Willpower has been described as self-control or self-disciple, all of which requires a conscious decision to be made and then the commitment to follow through. The beautiful aspect of it is that over time and continuous repetition any set of actions will become a habit. To get to the habit stage, the initial stage will be like pushing the car with the hand brakes engaged uphill until it starts to go down the hill with the hand brakes disengaged. Various studies have shown that the key attribute every successful person have is self-discipline. The willpower to decide and stay the course. Without willpower, we are not able to break through any habits.

To create or change a habit:

  1. Identify the goal or desired outcome.
    1. What is the desired outcome?
    2. Why do I want this outcome?
    3. Be specific.
    4. If it is a long term goal, then break it down to achievable mini-goals.
  2. Outline your strategy or series of actions that needs to take place.
    1. Write down the actions that need to take place.
    2. Break down “bigger” actions into “smaller” ones which does not look daunting. For example, if you want to exercise for 30 minutes as the big goal, break it down to 5 minutes every day for the 1st week and work your way up. By breaking it down to 5 minutes, it will not seem as daunting as 30 minutes.
    3. Be committed to executing the plan knowing that over time, it will be easier.
    4. Stick to it and repeat
  3. Reward. Set up a reward system for yourself. Mini-rewards for each mini-milestone. That will keep you going when you acknowledge your progress.  Our willpower needs to be rewarded as it is being strengthened.

In the next article, I will cover the barriers for willpower and how to overcome them.

Willpower vs. Motivation in creating change

In order to create changes in our habits, there needs to be starting point. The starting point is why do I need to change or create a new habit. What is the reason behind the change? Let’s assume that we have the reason for the desired change. How do we go about achieving this change?

There are basically 2 enablers of behaviour creation or modification and they are:

  1. Motivation: the reason or desire to do something
  2. Willpower: a combination of determination and self-discipline that enables someone to do something

What is the difference? The difference lies in “feeling” and “duration”.

Motivation is a feeling that comes up when we want to start something out of excitement but its duration to carry that “feeling” over a period of time is unreliable. For example, new year resolution, everyone who has ever created a new year resolution starts out extremely motivated. Each resolution is carried out with great excitement and anticipation and off they go. However, as time passes and when it gets hard or things get busy and distractions come along, the “feeling” of motivation subsides and passes away. There is no longevity with motivation.

Willpower on the other hand is about determination and self-discipline to not just start something but to complete it. In order to complete any difficult task or activity, there needs to be a determined decision to do it and the discipline to see it through. Without which nothing worthwhile will come out of it. Think of any successful person and the basic characteristic that they will have is sheer willpower to get something done.

For you and I, I think that we need both. We need motivation get us started and we need willpower to keep on going until the finish line. In order to change or create new habits, we need motivation (why we want to change) and then willpower (determination and self-discipline) to carry out the process of change over a period of time until it becomes automatic. In some cases it might take 30 days and with some changes even longer than that. The duration of change is all dependent on the degree of change that you are aiming for.

Motivation gets the ball rolling. When motivation is high, we require less willpower but when the motivation is low, we need more willpower to continue the process of change. It is therefore important to note the role that both motivation and willpower play and how to harness either one for the achievement of any change.

Think about:

  • What is your motivation for change?
  • What values is it aligned with?
  • What goals does it help you to accomplish?
  • What do you find hardest with previous endeavors to change?
  • What worked in the past in help you make behavioural changes?

Next, we will explore willpower as key to creating lasting change.