Making Willpower in to a Habit
I often find myself at the bookstore when I’m in between appointments without enough time to go home or without another errand to accomplish. Recently I stopped by Barnes and Noble and picked up a few books to read. The information that I found in one has made a huge difference for me already. The book is “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg.
Covered in this wonderful book is making willpower in to a habit. This sounded a little silly to me at first, but upon further reading it seemed viable. I’ve been implementing it for a couple of weeks now, and the results have been astounding. The diversity of applications makes this even more appealing. I’ve used it for both thought process and physical activities, and it has worked wonders, especially for destructive thought processes that I’ve struggled with for well over a year now.
Duhigg cites a Scottish study involving older patients recovering from hip or knee surgery. The physical rehab necessary is difficult and painful, and many people forgo it entirely because they simply don’t have the willpower to push through. In the experiment, a control group was given a pamphlet detailing their rehab schedule. The experimental group was given this same booklet, but in the back were thirteen additional pages, one for each week, with blank spaces and instructions: “My goals for this week are __________ ? Write down exactly what you are going to do. For example, if you are going to go for a walk this week, write down where and when you are going to walk.”
The results? “The patients who had written plans in their booklets had started walking almost twice as fast as the ones who had not. They had started getting in and out of their chairs, unassisted, almost three times as fast. They were putting on their shoes, doing the laundry, and making themselves meals quicker than the patients who hadn’t scribbled out goals ahead of time.”
Upon examining the written plans, it was found that not only were they detailed, but they covered how the individual planned on the dealing with their “inflection points.” One example was a patient, knowing that he would be in agonizing pain any time that he went to stand up to go to the bathroom, who wrote in his plan that he would automatically and always take his first step, removing his immediate access to his seat, and therefor removing the temptation to sit back down.
It was also found that there was often reward at the end of the difficult task, providing encouragement to repeat it. In the case of the man previously mentioned, he kept a bowl of M&Ms at the bathroom door, and allowed himself one on the way in, and one of the way out. Rewards are necessary to develop a habit. According to Duhigg, “Our brains are wired to take patterns with clear rewards, and make them into automatic reactions.” Without providing yourself a reward, you will never be able to develop of habit- the task will remain an act of sheer willpower. We all know how well that works out over the long haul.
So, how do we implement this in to our daily lives?
- Write it down. Be detailed in your plan of action.
- Identify inflection points and write out how you’ll deal with them. Figure out what screws you up, and write out how you’ll deal with it. I’ve found that the plan for dealing with it doesn’t have to be complicated. The biggest key for me was being able to recognize an inflection point, and redirect my thoughts and actions toward my plan of attack.
- Reward yourself. This doesn’t have to be a huge reward. Sometimes huge rewards are just as destructive as the habit you’re trying to stop, like allowing yourself to binge as a reward for not skipping a workout. What’s been most helpful to me is focusing on the reward, telling myself that it’s a great reward, and then taking pride in having earned and achieved the reward. It’s amazing how powerful a single M&M can be when you take the time to think of it not as an M&M, but a trophy of your conquest, and a symbol of the hard work that you’ve put in to becoming a more complete person.
In my life, this has been most useful in helping me to deal with destructive thought processes. They used to eat at me daily, destroying my self esteem, getting the best of me for at least half an hour a day, and nagging at me throughout much of the rest of it. I often wound up distracted enough to forget about them for extended periods of time, but no matter how much I tried, they always returned. They routinely struck me in the mornings, right as I woke up, when I was too groggy to focus and force myself out of it. It wasn’t a pleasant way to wake up.
I went ahead and took the book’s advice to heart, and I’ve been doing pretty damn well so far. I wrote down my plan for thinking for positively, detailing the thought processes that I would avoid, and writing out the ones that I’d like to employ more often. I then identified my most common inflection points (mornings and rough work days) and what I’d do when the negative thoughts hit.
My method is simple. If I’m in bed, I sit up first, but otherwise this is how I deal with it anywhere. I identify it for what it is, and tell myself that I won’t be thinking that way. The complete thought goes like this: “A negative thought process is occurring again. I need to stop, and I will stop.” I then let the thought become like a balloon in my head, and “let go” of it, watching it float away, shrinking in the distance (a little trick of mindfulness meditation).
I immediately reward myself after stopping the negativity. This works in two ways: number one, it changes my focus to something positive, helping keep negative thoughts away; number two, it encourages me to keep going. My reward is the happiness that comes with overcoming this obstacle, and taking pride in myself for facing it, instead of cowering and letting it have its way. I bask in the warmth this achievement, and it’s better than any physical reward I’ve come across.
I’ve only been overcome once since starting this, and I was much quicker to regain my footing. I learned from my mistake and wrote down how I’d deal with the situation next time I face it. Rather than being ashamed of myself for the shortcoming, I’m confident that I’ll emerge victorious the next time we face each other, and I can’t begin to explain to yall how much this means to me. I hope any of you who’ve ever struggled with anything similar give this a shot. It’s worth it.
Here’s a link to where I picked up my quotes from: http://personalmba.com/power-of-habit-charles-duhigg/ .
For further reading, go ahead and pick up the book. Business, personal, you name it, there’s some way that this can be applied. Additionally, this is only a single point discussed in the book. There’s so much more to be found in it.
If yall have any questions, leave me a comment and I’ll respond ASAP. I’d other love to hear if any of yall have any tough habits or tricks for dealing with them.
Until next time.