When we admire people for their productivity, their workout regimen or their figures, we often think that they must either have incredible willpower or tons more discipline than we have. After all, when we don’t meet our own targets for sales, or diets or organizational growth it seems like it’s a failing of those two ephemeral qualities. But research over the last 10 years has shown that there is much less of both of those – as well as of “inspiration” – than our intuition suggests.
Lots of productivity gurus have been saying as much for two decades, but it’s only with the advent of the use of functional MRI machines in the labs of neurobiologists that we have known for sure. When they look at those super-achievers in the moment of what we think is willpower, they typically find that the areas of the brain used for that effort are not lit up as expected. That counter-intuitive finding has led to much more work on this subject.
Imagine you want to lose weight. If your morning routine includes a trip to Starbucks or the corner bakery, you are almost guaranteeing that you will ultimately fail. Why? Because subjecting your brain to resisting the enticement of croissant aromas and the sounds of mochaccino’s being topped with whipped cream takes tons of willpower. That repetitive demand for willpower, sometimes multiple times a day, eventually exhausts your brains ability to resist and you relent by indulging in a cookie. Willpower failure!
You may be screaming at me now – saying “SEE!”. But wait. What if, from now on, instead of going to that bakery, you decided to go to a drive-through for your morning joe? No more aroma, no more views of whipped cream. Ergo, no more willpower. Now, you can save your psychic strength for the heavy lifting of running your business and still stick to your diet. This tiny tweak to your routine changes everything.
Our lives are comprised almost entirely of habits and routines. They are invisible to us by design. Our brains have evolved to maximize efficiency by glomming onto ease and convenience as a conservation measure. We are conserving mental energy for the critical tasks of life, like hunting and gathering, rearing children or building shelter. One strategy we are programmed to use is to create routine behaviors that don’t take lots of thinking. Willpower demands tons of thinking and energy. Habits require none. Do you have to think about reversing out of the driveway or locking the door? What about brushing your teeth or turning on your computer at work? Probably not. They are habits. In fact, they are so incredibly indelible and automatic, that even years after being away from a specific city, the habits of your time there return almost instantly when you go back.
Well, if our brains do that naturally, why not turn it into a tool to accomplish other things that matter to us? It’s the secret behind the results of super high -producers. They take their goals and build habits that make it easy to fulfill those goals, instead of challenging themselves with the need for willpower. Here are a couple more examples: When interviewed, prolific authors almost inevitably have a clear writing routine. They spend a prescribed number of daily hours sitting at their desks and writing –with or without inspiration, motivation or any other prompt. It’s their routine and they stick to it.
The same is true of those who exercise regularly. They do it at the same time, everyday (or as often as they intend), and they build structures that support that habit, like waking at the same time, having their exercise gear prepared in advance and organizing their family tasks around that commitment. So even on days when it is raining or snowing, and even when they are tired, they roll out of bed, grope for their socks and shoes in the usual spot and walk out the door. It’s a habit.
Habits are deeply entrenched. And even if you have a bad habit – it is also entrenched. They are almost impossible to break. BUT, you can replace a bad one with a good one.
There’s an actual science to creating a habit and getting it to stick. In the next post, I’ll breakdown the component parts for you. But between now and then, what are some of the habits that would make your goals easier to reach? And what are the bad habits that are holding you back? If you want individual coaching and a structure to make those changes now, let me know. Click below and we’ll make it happen! Having an expert coach to accelerate your progress can make all the difference in the speed and reality of your result.