“We can use decision-making to choose the habits we want to form, use willpower to get the habit started, then — and this is the best part — we can allow the extraordinary power of habit to take over. At that point, we’re free from the need to decide and the need to use willpower.”
Gretchen Rubin (Author, The Happiness Project)
“Epic production has less to do with your willpower and more to do with the routines you install. Get those right, and you’ll enjoy exponential results automatically.”
Robin S. Sharma (Leadership Expert/Author, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari)
“Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones.”
Benjamin Franklin (American Politician)
Get a grip. Hold it together. Push through. Buck up. Just do it.
And, there are more cliches just like these, all promoting the idea that if you can control yourself and do the things you might not feel like doing, you’ll reach your goal.
You might even get a prize.
These phrases to beat you down or pump you up (or both) stem from the theory that discipline, willpower, and self-control are simply matters of choice.
You will become valiant at sacrifice and suffering, and a pillar of self-directed and contained effort.
And, you will win.
If you don’t get the trophy, you’ll still look for the participation ribbon — or at least a cookie.
How many times has this type-A brow-beating worked for you?
Without the sacrifice of something else?
Like your health, or your self-esteem?
And, for nothing.
The logic is flawed.
It’s ineffective and leaves you depleted and a failure.
You can’t count on sheer ego and indefinite willpower, no matter how badass you are, because both are limited resources.
Both get used up and deplete over time.
Self-control is important, but there are efficient ways of mastering and replenishing your resources that will take you to your end goals without stress-related burnout or collapse in the process.
Instead of focusing on control, focus on self-regulation.
Self-regulation is when a person governs himself or herself without outside assistance or influence.
An example of self-regulation is when you limit, of your own accord, how much you will eat.
Willpower, on the other hand, is a tool of self-regulation.
For example, you may use your willpower to limit how much you will eat.
The problem is, willpower is not a very good self-regulation tool.
Why? Because it needs recharging every 24 hours.
Numerous studies have shown that using willpower relies on making choices, and making choices impairs subsequent self-regulation.
Now, we have 2 problems.
The first problem is that willpower is a limited resource.
The second problem is that willpower, as it’s used, depletes mental energy, which leads to making bad decisions.
Bad decisions lead to a further reduction in willpower, which leads to making even worse decisions.
On and on this goes, until it’s Friday night after the end of a long week at the office and you’re either 6 drinks deep at the bar with your friends, or home on the couch with a pint of ice-cream and Netflix.
Habits, on the other hand, are also a tool of self-regulation, but they do not require decision-making.
As such, habits allow for self-regulation without the energy-depleting effect of willpower.
If you want to regulate your life better, don’t rely on your willpower.
Instead, rely on your habits.
Why Willpower Is Unreliable
Research cited by The American Psychological Association found that people who have exerted self-control earlier in the day showed a lack of self-control on challenges the same day, where self-control was needed.
One study invited participants to eat fresh baked cookies while others were told to resist the cookies and eat radishes instead. Then, both groups were given a difficult puzzle to solve.
Those who ate the cookies worked on the puzzle for an average of 20 minutes. Those who had to resist the cookies earlier only worked on the puzzle for an average of 8 minutes before giving up.
Rather than increasing willpower, using it earlier depleted it.
When willpower is used, ego depletion follows, and an inability to self-regulate ensues, leaving you more vulnerable to temptation and bad decision-making.
Because exerting willpower puts the brain into constant decision-making mode, it fatigues.
Research out of the University of Florida states that, “The self’s resources, which are also used for decision-making and active responding, can be replenished by rest and positive emotions.”
The key to controlling yourself, and being self-regulated, involves systemizing your life.
Creating effective habits reduces your brain’s need to expend energy to make decisions, and allows it to run more efficiently.
These habits are learned patterns of behavior that help you reach your goals.
Researcher Wendy Wood explains it this way…
“The thoughtful intentional mind is easily derailed and people tend to fall back on habitual behaviors. Forty percent of the time we’re not thinking about what we’re doing,” Wood interjects. “Habits allow us to focus on other things… Willpower is a limited resource, and when it runs out you fall back on habits.”
How To Create New Habits That Strengthen Your Willpower
While willpower depletes over the course of the day, creating new, positive habits helps to replenish willpower and strengthen it over time.
As habits are created successfully, they become contagious, leading to more habits and the strengthening of willpower.
Here are 2 ways to create new habits and strengthen your willpower.
1. Leverage the power of habit stacking.
Forming new habits involves 3 phases, according to the British Journal of General Practice.
The first is the “initiation phase”, where you select your new behavior.
The “learning phase” follows, where you repeat the selected behavior.
And, the third is the “stability phase”, where the habit has been formed and continues with minimal effort.
The initiation and learning phases are the most challenging.
They take the most energy in your brain, and the most willpower to do.
If you make it to the stability phase, it’s a success.
One way to make the initiation and learning phases easier is through a process called habit stacking.
This comes from research that says that it’s easier to add a new habit on top of one you already do successfully.
So, if you want to adopt a new habit, do it right after one that you’ve already mastered.
Let’s say you wake up in the morning at the same time, have a cup of coffee, and then brush your teeth, in that same sequence every morning.
The science of habit stacking says that if you want to adopt a new habit, you’ll add it on after you brush your teeth.
The habit of brushing your teeth becomes a trigger for the new habit.
If your new habit is to walk the dog in the morning, or meditate, or journal… you’ll have a better chance of adopting it into your habit link by doing it after you brush your teeth.
This allows the brain, as it’s running efficiently on autopilot for your existing habits, to adopt a new habit with the least amount of effort available.
2. Create a reward system.
The whole point of a habit is to create a behavior that brings you closer to what you want.
The whole point of leveraging the power of habits is to eliminate wasted time and energy that you should be putting towards high-focus activities that will move you closer to your goals.
The satisfaction of a successfully created new habit is just not enough.
Not for most.
Your brain is driven by extrinsic reward as much as intrinsic reward.
Habits don’t form overnight.
In fact, the latest research has found that it takes exactly 66 days to create a new habit.
Which is why so many new habits fail.
Unrealistic expectations and belief in the old 21-day rule.
When in reality, the process takes a little over 2 months.
If you wait until day 67 to reward yourself, you’re too late.
You need to set up micro and macro awards for your efforts.
Reward yourself after the first week. And, each week.
Use your brain’s reward system to work for you.
Set up meaningful celebrations to mark your achievements.
Recruit other people to keep you accountable, so you have someone to share your victories with.
Look for the moments when you realize it’s taking less effort and starting to get easier.
Then, look for other areas in your life where you can ritualize and create habits, to avoid willpower depletion.
You can reduce the amount of decision fatigue and willpower depletion that’s keeping you from reaching your goals by using the power of systems and habits. You can increase your ability to have control over your life by learning to self-regulate by creating habits that propel you towards your goals. This will free up your mental energy to focus on high-level tasks and give you a sense of having control over yourself, and ultimately your life.
To learn more about How To Strengthen Your Willpower By Creating New Habits, and to get instant access to exclusive training videos, case studies, insider documents, and my private online network, get on the wait list to create your Escape Plan and Achieve Intelligent Alignment.