What happens to willpower? Ways to bolster it.

Think of something in the past few days that has challenged your willpower. Getting up on time? Resisting that down-the-rabbit-hole online surfing when you know that your client project is behind schedule? Not reaching for that second coffee in the afternoon when you know that coffee, for your body, taken after midday guarantees rotten sleep that night?

In her Ted Talk, Kelly McGonigal, Health Psychologist at Stanford University, gives us a life line on willpower. She invites us to see our willpower struggles as a competition between two different parts of, or two different versions of ourselves. A familiar, almost daily contest for me is between the competing long-term and short-term goals around having another coffee. I know so well that one coffee a day is a pleasure, and, with a sensitivity to caffeine, reaching for a second cup is saying farewell to a decent sleep that night. If I let the short-term thinking part of myself win, I reach for another coffee close to or after midday. When I let the longer-term goal win, the deliciousness of a deep, restorative sleep that night, I reach for herbal tea.

Why does the short-term part of us win so often?

What interferes with our ability to let the longer-term goal be the winner of the competition? Research on this points to the time of day, our mind-set, our available energy, our stress level – all of these impact the ability of our brain to make the choice that favours the longer-term version of ourselves. If we are tired from reduced sleep the night before, or so stressed we cannot even remember our long-term goal, the short-term goal wins hands down. Every single time.

What can we do to bolster willpower and long term goals?

Remember the research of Prof Fogg in the blog titled, Too Small to Fail . For 25 years he has, along with his team, been obsessing about just what promotes long term behavioural change. His team conclude that that there are really only two pathways that do this. The first one is to change the environment. Changing the environment, changes the behaviour.

The second pathway Fogg’s team concludes, is via repeatable, tiny behaviours that gradually become automatic. They become habits. For example, creating just one or two timed chunks in your day to answer emails in order to free up dedicated segments of your work day that are uninterrupted.

How can you lead yourself in the willpower moments that count?

Join Geoff McDonald and myself in our next four-week Leadership Habits program. This practical program is online every Thursday morning for 90 minutes. Register now on Event Brite

Image provided  by Nolan Issac

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