Willpower isn’t a trait mastered by the strongest among us. It’s a form of energy that wears down if overused.
When you exert a lot of effort to stop several habits, you may be subtracting the very energy necessary to fulfill your intentions. For example, if frugality is new to you, you might vow to give up the morning latte, lunch out, buying magazines at the newsstand, and scrolling through online stores. You may give up so many habits at once that your willpower is taxed and you find yourself spending more or drinking more or arguing more once the weekend arrives. I don’t have a spending problem, not even close, but I do have plenty of habits I’d like to drop. They jangle at me like annoying wind chimes made entirely of what I want to change about myself.
We’re more likely to be successful when we take on one or two changes at a time, letting them become comfortable patterns before adding more. It’s commonly said that it takes at least 21 days to create a habit. Not too sure about that. If it’s a rewarding new habit it may have significant sticking power in a few days. If it’s a tough habit to drop (like my departure from eating wheat), it may still seem alluring years later. I know all about this. (Pizza, why do you call my name?)
And we have to remember there’s typically a gap between what we know and how well we apply it to our lives. A big gap that extends through four stages of competence. No wonder it’s hard to change.
We often associate self-discipline with the loss of short term pleasure (lose weight, save money, stop wasting so much time on Facebook). But for some of us with pretty decent impulse control, self-discipline can too easily tip into self-berating. Negativity gets us nowhere. It’s essential to be attuned to the positive, to see how we’re making progress rather than focusing on where we’re going wrong.
I think we should use willpower to cultivate delight in our lives rather than seeing it as a way of dropping bad habits. Those lovely new joys we’re practicing may very well nudge out what we don’t want in our lives as a side benefit.
Oh, and one more thought. Sharing our goals is a way of augmenting our willpower. That’s why I’m sharing my list.
Delights to Cultivate
1. Be a person who wears interesting hats.
2. Lie in the grass whenever possible.
3. Lean toward single-tasking. (That means you Pinterest.)
5. Keep ice water by my desk to inspire hydration (not to inspire klutz moves that might dampen my keyboard or phone).
6. Say positive things about myself (no more predicting future klutz moves).
7. Sigh whenever I want to, because it stimulates the vagus nerve. Ahhhh, that feels good.
8. Go barefoot more often.
10. Use gifts given to me rather than setting them aside for “good.”
11. Develop life lists.
13. Be happy with what I’m getting done rather than focus on what I haven’t accomplished.
14. Go on out-of-the-ordinary dates with my beloved. Maybe I can talk him into glassblowing lessons!
15. Dye my hair pink. Okay, maybe a few streaks.
16. Honor the wisdom found in doing nothing.
What delights do YOU want to cultivate?