“I just don’t have the willpower.”
I hear people say that all the time. About going on a diet. About starting to exercise. About changing their career. About making their dreams come true.
I’ve said it myself. Sooo many times.
The official definition of willpower is “the ability to control yourself” or “the strong determination to do something difficult”.
I for one definitely can’t control myself. (If you’d like evidence, place an open box of artisan chocolates within my reach.) And guess what? I’m not kicking and screaming to do difficult things either.
Now, I could proceed to label myself a loser and a failure for this apparent lack of willpower. But then I would probably have to label about seven billion other people with me, which seems a bit drastic.
Most people are naturally resistant to change. Most people shy away from doing things that are overwhelmingly difficult for them. So are we all doomed to suffer in our powerless inability to get anything done?
I don’t think so.
Over time I’ve come to believe that willpower is kind of a mythical beast that probably doesn’t even exist. We wait for it to magically make an appearance before we can take action. We use it as a crutch even when lack of willpower is not the real issue.
Instead of waiting around for something that isn’t ever going to happen, what we CAN do is create the circumstances that make it easier for us to reach whatever goals we are after. We can circumvent our resistance and lack of determination by making things easier on ourselves, so that we no longer need “strong determination to do something difficult.” We simply need to make a choice to do something that is doable. We need to take one little step forward.
1. Consider what you are trying to have willpower for
If you are using willpower to get out of bed at an hour you really want to be sleeping so you can go eat a breakfast that doesn’t taste good and spend an hour fighting traffic to get to a job you don’t like, is that a good use of your efforts?
Are you using your willpower to go after what you (yes, YOU) actually want out of life? Or are you following someone else’s template? Are you following someone else’s definition of success?
What little snippets of determination you can muster should go toward what you ACTUALLY want – they should not be wasted on shit you never chose in the first place. You know what I’m talking about… Those things that just kinda snuck up on you. The job you go to because it’s the one job you were offered. The shopping for the snappy outfits to fit in with the coworkers you have nothing in common with. The knitting group you dread attending every Thursday over lunch.
Think about what you really want out of life. What are the components of your ideal life? Use your willpower to work toward those. You might want to check out one of these articles if you are lacking direction:
2. Set very specific goals
Vague dreams tend to remain just that – dreams. The more specific you make your goals, the more real they become. Setting super specific goals also makes it easier to figure out what exactly needs to happen, making your goal much more doable.
Let me give you a couple of examples:
- I want a career that I love.
- I want to be a writer.
- I want to do some writing online.
- I want to establish two websites in two years and write one article per week for each.
- I want to feel better.
- I want to get in shape.
- I want to exercise a few times a week.
- I want to go to the gym three times a week for an hour.
Which goals do you think will actually result in some action?
Some people find it helpful to follow the SMART guidelines when setting goals:
3. Break your specific goal into baby steps
Your goal may be SMART, but it can still be really big and scary. Going after it will require you to do something different than what you are used to – to get out of your comfort zone. And most people are naturally resistant to and afraid of change.
But that’s ok.
The way to make change easier is to take baby steps rather than attempting to climb some ginormous scary mountain all at once. I just finished reading Anna Kendrick’s book* and this quote had gotten 175 kindle highlights: “I think I need to become perfect all at once, so I keep getting overwhelmed and putting it off.” Many of us can relate to this feeling and the only way through it is by inching forward with little tiny baby steps.
Taking the first step is always hardest. We have tried and failed before, so we have given up. But all it takes is that one little step forward. And the more steps you take, the more confidence you gain. The more you will start trusting yourself and having faith that you can do it.
4. Put your baby steps in the calendar
Sometimes “I just don’t have the willpower” actually means “I just don’t manage my time very well.” You might have your big SMART goal all figured out and the baby steps listed, but you still never seem to get around to making progress. You are always too busy with something else.
- How long will my first baby step take?
- What is less important to me than my goal? What can I drop from my schedule to have more time for my goal?
- At what hour on what day will I take my baby step?
Then write it down. On the calendar!! Putting your baby steps on the calendar makes them at least as important as that dental cleaning or that oil change or that knitting group. You would never miss those, right? 😉
And while you are at it, make sure to pencil in some sweet procrastination time as well when you get to do nada. (Well, maybe you can be bothered to take a nap or watch a movie or read a magazine. 🙂 ) Going after your goal doesn’t mean you have to give up on relaxing time completely. This is not either or. Make your baby steps small enough to leave time left over for rest.
Having visions of a different future comes easier for some people than others. But it’s something that’s worth practicing even if it feels a bit awkward at first. Picture yourself with whatever it is you want. Let yourself feel how it will feel. The more you visualize how things could be, the more real it becomes. The more possible it seems. The more within reach it becomes.
Until you just need to stretch yourself a tiny bit to grab it.
6. Surround yourself with support
If you are to have the determination to do something difficult, you will need bunches of support. Seek out people who have done what you want to do to serve as role models. Seek out people who help you figure out how.
Tell Negative Nelly and Obstacle Ollie that you are too busy to hang out right now. You need Kickass Kim and Helpful Henry in your corner. And if Kim and Henry don’t live close by, look for them in books or online.
7. Take care of yourself
If you are tired or not feeling well, the issue is not lack of willpower. The issue is that you are tired or not feeling well. I’m the world champion of zombieing around for hours whining about how tired I am, getting nothing done.
When what would make sense would be to take care of myself and take a nap. And THEN kick ass.
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