The interesting thing about willpower is that it’s limited. Recent studies have suggested willpower is much like a muscle: it can be temporarily exhausted by over use, and it can be built up by “exercising” it. (For more on this, see The Neuroscience of Success.)
Here are some ways to improve the chance that your attempts at change will work:
- Set clear goals for yourself.
- If the change is big, set small/short-term goals, medium goals, and large/long-term goals.
- Don’t get hung up on one slip or failure. Judge your success or failure over a period of time – 3 days, a week, even a month. If you did the right thing more often, or did not do the wrong thing as often over the most current period as compared to the last one, you have improved. If you have had a number of periods of improvement, one backwards period is a warning, not a disaster.
- Be careful with whom you share your goals, and what you say. Some folks secretly enjoy seeing failure, and some will resist your changes even if they would benefit from them.
- Promise small, deliver big. To assign arbitrary numbers, if you are at 20 and promise to get to 60 in six months, but only get to 40, your bride will feel you have failed. If you promise 40 and do 40, she feels good. If you promise 35 and do 40, she feels great. Don’t intentionally promise far less than you think you can do, but be on the conservative side of realistic.
- Make one change at a time. If you try to make many changes, you will over-exert your willpower and fail at most or all of the changes.
- Take some breaks – find a plateau and don’t push past that for a week or two.
- Have a long-term outlook. How do you want to be in five years? What needs to changed to be that, and in what order?
Also in this series: