Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Limited Reserve of Willpower and New Year's Resolutions

Enhance Your Willpower 
Reach Your Goals

Robert Hatch, owner of Human Business Works, a business coach, and an author, sent me some advice this morning on making and achieving New Year's Resolutions.

I can sum it up with a quote from Wayne Dyer:  "Once you begin working on your problem areas with small, daily, success-oriented, goals, the problems will disappear."

What I like about Hatch's iteration of the way you must operate to reach a specific goal is the acknowledgement that we only have a certain limited reserve of willpower. He is so in to the idea, he eats the same thing for breakfast every morning. It limits the drain of will power and reduces, by one, the decisions he must make as entrepreneur through the rest of the day.  Ok, not me.  But, interesting.

For the science on willpower, take a look at this Stanford School of Medicine blog.  Two things can enhance your reserve of willpower: Meditation and regular exercise, partly because they help you manage stress better. Stress, in contrast, reduces your ability to resist urges and temptations, as does sleep deprivation and poor nutrition.

Hatch's more extended discussion follows.
You’ve heard it before . . . . Statistics show that a small minority of folks follow through on their resolutions.

There are a few reasons for this, understanding why may help you.

How Success Is Built.

Maybe we set a goal that we will lose 30 pounds this year but by the time January is over and we haven’t lost the 30 pounds (or some significant undetermined amount) we feel like we failed. We start to let things slip and eventually, our efforts disappear.

Success is not built by simply stating the end goal. Success is structured bit by bit. Understanding how to construct the path, helps us stay on it.

Another reason why success slips away is that we fail to supplement our willpower. We seem to have it in abundance this time of year, but willpower is a limited resource.

Willpower can actually run out in the course of a day. Putting our willpower to focus on a project at work can deplete it such that we struggle to get to the gym later.

Understanding how to structure our day and supplement our willpower, is important.

Resistance Is Futile…

Accepting that you simply don't have an endless supply of will is a good first step. Here are a few ideas for supplementing the willpower you do have.

How - Instead of stating what you will do, map a plan for how you will do it. Keep it simple. Establish a reasonable plan of action with actionable steps and small successes built on one another throughout the year. The results will come.

Losing 30 pounds is not an action. Creating a menu from which you will shop and stock your pantry, is. Making $10,000 in new sales each month, is not an action. Making 5 calls a day, is.

Stick to the plan - We have this tendency to want to riff before we understand the notes. When you establish a plan, you are not waking up everyday wondering what to eat, or how many calls you should make. The plan is clear, follow it. The results will come.

Be Reasonable and Kind - For some folks, a no excuses, no days off, approach is spot on. It’s admirable. For others, it is unrealistic and missing one day, feels like failure. Set yourself up for success by understanding what is reasonable for you, your time, your commitments. I’m not saying you can’t push yourself to do more, but for some 4 days a week is more.

If you fall off the plan, it happens but it does not immediately signal failure. Be kind to yourself and start again tomorrow.

Take time to structure and support the willpower that has you excited for all you will accomplish in the coming year. Your goals deserve it. Small actions lead to big goals and I know you are going to accomplish great things.
For more on stress, willpower, and pursing healthy habits, see here and here.

Jan. 5, 2014 Update:  This New York Times article offers four strategies for keeping New Year's resolutions.

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