So as the title implies, No.1 mistake people do when they start building a habit is relying too much on willpower. They believe that building a healthy habit like daily exercising, is only possible if you go hard and you push yourself everyday to show up and be disciplined.
While this plan might work for people who have trained and grown their willpower muscle to above average size (think: really fit and healthy people, who just keep on getting healthier), it won’t work for majority of us, because of a single reason that willpower is finite resource and if we ask more than it can handle – we’ll quit.
So here are my 6 thoughts on Willpower. Most of it is research based, and if you wish, I could find the sources of the studies made.
Willpower is a muscle that has limited capacity and fluctuates during the day
Think of it as a cup of liquid willpower drink. When you wake up, if you had a good night sleep, you feel rested – this is when your willpower cup is full. That’s why we feel like we can do so much in the first part of the day and the afternoon seems like a less productive one. It also fluctuates during the day. We start high, then drain it until lunch, when we take a break, replenish the willpower cup as much as possible and we get on with the rest of the to-dos until the evening where we get ‘brain-dead’ and just want to veg out.
You drain your willpower with every decision you make
Every decision we have to make, every task we got to do, drains our willpower cup, drop by drop. And each task we have to do has an estimated amount of willpower it will require to complete. So even if it’s a morning and you don’t feel like doing the task in front of you, it’s probably because your brain thinks that to complete the task, you will need a lot more willpower than is left in your cup and you just move on with doing other less important, but more pleasant things.
You charge your willpower by doing things you WANT to do
Luckily, we can refill the willpower cup and we do that by taking breaks, escaping to Social Media, having lunch, power nap etc. Basically doing something we really enjoy and we don’t have force ourselves to do. So while we do what we want, our willpower cup is slowly getting refilled. That’s why we *usually* feel energized to start working again after the holidays.
Our brain, preserves the willpower when it’s low
When we’re low on willpower, our brain naturally reserves it for some emergency action and tries to deny any task that requires more effort than you have willpower left. It just feeds your brain with all the tiredness, all the reasons why you shouldn’t do something and why it’s a good idea to escape and do something fun. Right now.
If you want to do stuff even when your willpower is drained, key is to make decisions so small, it requires almost no willpower at all
There is a way how to trick your brain, when your willpower is low, to do something that would otherwise look like it’s too much effort. It’s splitting the big goal into micro goals. E.g. if you need to write 1000 words essay, you say – I’m gonna start by writing 25 words. I’ll make a 5min break and will write another 25 words. Something that is so ridiculously small that your brain is like ‘okay okay, as long as I don’t to put too much effort, I’m okay with that’. Trick is not to come with the ‘trick’ mentality. Actually say to yourself that I don’t wanna do this, but I will do 1% of it, because it’s so little and even if I don’t do any more, I will be 1% closer. It will feel good, believe me. And maybe you’ll even get enough dopamine to keep going 😉
Willpower goes hand in hand with your body health
Willpower is not only mental game. As mentioned in the beginning – there is no way you’ll be able to tackle big important tasks if you have slept 4 hours. If you just had full pizza + coke. If you haven’t exercised in 3 months. If your body is unhealthy, your mind will be busy in activating all the cells in your body to deal with all the sh*t that comes when you’re unhealthy. It just has a focus of survival rather than growth and improvement. So the best way to increase the size of you willpower cup is to take care of your body health (fitness + nutrition + sleep) and you’ll see how you will be naturally more likely to be more productive, more focused and feel like you can move a mountain every single day.
Thus when thinking about building a healthy habit, the best strategy you can take is to forget about using willpower for that all together and set actions so ridiculously small, that it requires no willpower at all. How to know what’s the limit? Set yourself a goal. E.g. I’m going for 5 pushups every morning. You do it for 5 days, but don’t feel like doing it on 6th? Go even lower – 4 pushups. Or 3. At least 1. If you feel like doing 1 pushup is too much, you’re probably want to do pushups for the wrong reasons in the first place and you should just think of other action, that you will not be discouraged by. This strategy is super powerful because it ensures your habit building doesn’t fail because of fluctuations in willpower.