I found an old journal not long ago. It was a gratitude journal that I started as a New Year’s Resolution. I was going to get grateful and write down all the things I was thankful for every night.
The last entry was January 9.
Nine days of gratitude and the journal stared gathering dust. Like the rest of my resolutions that year, I’m sure.
Apparently I’m not alone.
88% of all resolutions end in failure! *
I don’t know if I feel better or worse.
It takes about 21 days to form a new habit.
At about day seven, though, the honeymoon ends. You’re over the initial excitement of trying something new. On Day 8 or 9, the ruts that you know so well are singing their siren song and luring you farther away from your target.
To get through day 8-21, you’ll need some fortification.
In my Mind Money Wealth Program, I teach people the importance of creating new habits around mindset and money. Some people need to create the daily habit of paying attention to their money. Others need to get in the habit of marketing their business. Still others need the habit of self-reflection and working to improve self-awareness in order to dissolve limiting beliefs.
Whatever new habits you need to create, it’s going to take willpower to make them stick. So it’s a good idea to know how willpower works and when you’ll most need to strengthen your resolve so you can get through the gauntlet that is Day 8-21.
Here’s what you need to know about willpower. And how to make use of a limited resource.
1. Willpower is like a muscle. Use it or lose it.
How many pushups can you do? On a good day, I can drop and give you seven before I collapse red-faced on the floor.
Willpower is like a muscle.
In their book, Willpower, Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney found that willpower can get stronger in the long term with use and training. They say, “people who exercise their willpower frequently. . .have better self-control.”
Better self control means getting through days 8-21.
So how do you train your willpower if you’re powerless over chocolate cake? Or you simply can’t muster up the energy to work your marketing plan every day?
Train it by picking simple tasks that you can manage to practice every day. Tasks that won’t increase your stress if you do succumb to the song of the siren.
Train for the big change by training yourself to stop cussing. Or train yourself to sit up straight. Or train yourself to take a deep breath before you speak.
Pick something simple to practice on a daily basis. Watch it improve your ability to follow through with the hard tasks that create the big change in your life. Like installing new beliefs or, my favorite, changing your mindset from one of poverty to one of prosperity.
2. WARNING: Willpower is weaker in the short term!
When it gets to metaphorical pushup number 8, and you’re tired and you’re spent, your willpower will fail you.
Willpower is both a renewable resource and a deplete-able resource and it’s most abundant in the morning when you’re refreshed and replenished.
“You only have a finite amount [of willpower] as you go through the day,” says Tierney.
In other words, you’re going to run out at some point in your day.
Dang. Not all news is good, here.
What to do when rations dwindle?
First, do the hard things early when supplies are fresh. Pull on your spandex shorts or sort your receipts or fiddle with your website first thing, while your resolve is strongest and on your side.
Second, don’t try to change all your bad habits at once.
Reconsider the New Year’s Resolution mania that grips our country.
A saner approach would be ONE new resolution each month. Choose one thing and focus on changing that one thing only. Put everything else you want to change in storage.
Think how far you’d go, how much could change, in just a year!
I’m an overachiever, so I’ve decided to add one good habit and take away one bad habit. This month, I’m focused on health. I’ve added daily rigorous exercise and I took away my bread and pasta habit. That felt do-able, but I’m already an exerciser and a pretty careful eater. I was already halfway there. Next month, I’ve got a big challenge planned, so I’ll probably just do the one.
See what feels right for you. Be sure to be gentle with yourself for all the other things that are still in storage. Deeply accept yourself. Be patient and promise yourself that you’ll get to it when you the time is right.
3. Stress and mental overload deplete willpower.
Studies show that just walking down a bustling city street can lower your resolve.
Apparently, all that stimuli and activity stresses out your cortex. And your cortex draws energy from the same well as your willpower.
So, when you’re actively using willpower to transform yourself, as much as possible in our weird and overstimulating world, reduce input.
Limit your exposure to excess stimulation and create an environment that doesn’t drain you.
Go on a media diet (no more talk radio!). Don’t go to the mall, watch too much TV, lollygag on the internet. Spend time in nature (I find water especially calming). Look to your own life and see where you get overstimulated and edgy.
Personally, I get twitchy in loud restaurants and have a really hard time keeping my hand out of the breadbasket. So I stay away when I’m trying to conquer my carb habit.
4. Which doesn’t mean you can’t have fun!
Researcher Juliano Laran found that people were more likely to complete a task when they were told the task was fun. They got energy from believing the task was fun.
Energy equals willpower.
So as you’re creating your new habits, focus on what’s fun about the new habit and it will give you energy.
You may have to find the fun in the results you are after. But by day 7 or 8, just when you start to struggle, you’ll most likely be seeing some results from your efforts.
Find the fun in your results.
I’ve been creating the habit of a daily writing practice. How else will there ever be a book? What’s stopped me in the past is not feeling I have anything to say. But by showing up every day, by day 8, I created a respectable body of work, a first draft of a chapter. I read back over my musings and was delighted to find nuggets that sound good and make sense. To me, that’s fun. And it inspires me to keep going.
I bet there is something fun in your new habit that you can use to keep drawing you forward toward your goal.
5. Thinking that you have more willpower makes you have more willpower…at least in the short term.
What you think is what you get!
I’ve said it a million times on this blog, and now there’s proof. Studies by Veronika Job and friends show that you can increase your willpower by thinking that willpower is not so limited.
If you’re facing a short-term challenge, like a bread basket, tell yourself that you have all the willpower you need and you’ll find that you can dig deep and summon more.
Just remember the reverse is also true. Are you in the habit of saying, “I just don’t have any willpower when it comes to whatever (exercising, chocolate, buying shoes).”
If that’s you, then maybe that is a perfect place to start creating a new habit. Tell yourself for the next 21 days, “I have all the willpower I need when it comes to shoe shopping!”
So, now that you know more about willpower, more willpower to you. What’s your takeaway, today? Leave a comment and tell me, what will you do to strengthen your willpower starting now.
*See the New Year’s Resolution Study by psychologist Richard Wiseman.