The Amazing Willpower Muscle

I love beginnings.  They are filled with promise and the unknown; it seems like anything can happen.  The New Year 2013 is a beginning, it is an entirely different year and so entirely different things can happen.  I could become better organized, punctual, and less prone to forgetting dentist appointments.   I could, in fact do all of these things, but I have learned to choose my resolutions carefully.  As in most things, focus is a key ingredient to successful resolutions.  For years I began my new year by listing all the things I was proud of in the previous year, this was a feel good way of taking inventory and celebrating the considerable efforts I had just been through.  I would feel good as I realized I hadn’t been as lazy or badly focused as I had made myself believe; I had actually accomplished a lot of stuff over the year.  When I looked back at the lists I have made over the past several years, it struck me that whether the list of resolutions were ten items long or thirty two items long, each year I achieved success and growth in two, maybe three areas of my life.  Despite the fact that I had made concrete goals is six different areas of my life last year, from physical fitness, to training in life coaching, to finishing my book, to committing to a daily yoga practice, I succeeded in the areas of professional training and creative practice.  When I looked at my list from each year, the story was the same; I had always made real progress in two, at the most three, key areas of my life.

This information has got me thinking about the willpower, and how we must use it carefully. If we squander our willpower to lose five pounds that we don’t really need to lose, there isn’t going to be much left over to commit to further career training, to follow through on a commitment to stretch daily, or to see the physio three times a week.  When a list of things we must make progress on is too long, we simply can’t sustain the willpower needed to get up early and stretch, to give a week of our holiday to professional training, to save the money needed to afford the physiotherapy.  I have found it helpful in my life, to create a lot of habits that take out the need to have willpower.  If I workout every single day, there is no need for a huge debate about whether I am going to workout today or not.  I used to workout at the same time everyday, which totally took the inner debate away and made it an automatic thing, like eating breakfast.  We all have these “winning habits” that are good habits, so deeply entrenched we don’t need to waste our willpower on them.  There are not many adults I know who have a nightly debate about whether they are going to brush their teeth or not.  I don’t need a lot of willpower to keep my diet in check.  I have set the rules in advance, they are simple.  No desserts during the week unless it is a special occasion dinner, only one serving of bread a day, meat three times a week, you get the idea.  I don’t have to pull myself away from the cookie jar on week nights, because in my head, there is no cookie jar.  Just as young children need clear limits, I think adults need them too, not to constrain them, but to save that amazing willpower muscle for the really big lifts.  It’s like completing the manuscript of my book which is consuming my January, or building an entirely new business strategy, or painting on a weekly basis.  I would rather spend my willpower on these feats, than use it to reach every single appointment on time this year.  Perhaps you do have a huge issue with time management that you will use your willpower to tackle this year, my support goes out to you, but be sure to set yourself up for a win in that important area of your life, by managing other areas through winning habits.  If you are going to stop smoking, make sure you make the exercise part easy by meeting a friend at the same time for a walk each week, or hiring a personal trainer so that the motivation to show up is that you have already bought your session (and you will feel great), and that you stay clear of people and spaces that you know will exhaust your willpower. 

Willpower is a beautiful thing, and we can have it in spades if we create some foundational winning habits and stay focused on what we really want to achieve in our life.