First, let’s talk about change. It’s hard! By the time we’re 50 and older, we’re darned stuck in our ways, right?!
In order to make changes last, we have to learn about how to effectively use discipline and willpower. In his book, The One Thing, Gary Keller says what we need is a new habit, not discipline nor willpower. Toss in enough discipline for a short time, while the habit kicks in, and we won’t need to rely on it to continue the behavior. Think about it: You don’t use discipline to brush your teeth, make coffee, get out the door on your way to work, put on your seat belt or start the car and put it in drive. Why? Because they’re all habits!
As he points out in the book, “… who would want to be, ‘disciplined’ anyway? The very thought of having your every behavior molded and maintained by training seems frighteningly impossible on one hand and utterly boring on the other.”
What about willpower? Mr. Keller shares research stating that we have a daily reserve of willpower and over the course of the day, it is depleted every time we use if for something, regardless of how trivial. It’s a powerful thing, until it needs a nap! Kathleen Vohs, in Prevention magazine (2009) used the analogy of it being like gasoline in your car. Every time you start and/or run your car’s engine, you use some of your gas and eventually your tank is empty.
Willpower is the same … resist that donut at 8AM, the French fries at lunch, bite your tongue throughout the day, and when it’s 9PM and you’re relaxing … BAM! the ice cream or potato chips begin their siren call just when your willpower is at its lowest.
In The One Thing, Keller shares research showing that when our willpower runs out, we revert to our default settings. Understanding those settings is a step toward awareness but is not the answer. Managing our ‘tank’ of willpower is the solution. In the book, he points out several things that deplete willpower: Suppressing emotions, or impulses, restraining aggression, resisting temptation, trying to impress or doing something you don’t want to do. Some of those are obvious willpower guzzlers but taking tests and filtering distractions surprised me.
I understand that taking tests can be stressful, and as such, made sense once I thought about it, but filtering distractions was an AHA! moment for me. As someone with ADHD, I never realized how filtering distractions was one of my major guzzlers, leaving me exhausted! A couple of other things on the list rang true for ADHD as well: suppressing impulses and doing things one doesn’t enjoy are big challenges. Knowing that they guzzle willpower means scheduling them when the tank is full!
Other important factors in filling your tank include staying rested and healthy eating. Eating properly, and at the right time sets you up for success.
My willpower plan is to do important things first and try to set up meetings for later in the day. However, it rarely works that my mid mornings aren’t planned out, so when I get home in the afternoon, I take a 20-30-minute nap. (Alexa, set an alarm for 3:30!) That mental break, and energy charge, tops off my tank so that I can finish up the important stuff while still taking advantage of a reasonable bedtime.
There are so many planning tools available that finding one that works for you, studying your willpower’s timing and your focused needs, will probably require designing and redesigning your daily plan several times. Also, we change, and our priorities change, often leading to a new plan.
I highly recommend Gary Keller’s book, The One Thing. Read it, listen to it, work with it and see where it leads. There’s also a podcast and planning sheets. Check it all out here!