I once read a book called Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. What about willpower for moms? How does nurturing willpower improve our lives and help us reach our most-wanted goals?
We know what secret high achievers possess that enables them to meet their goals. The answer is willpower. We intuitively understand that mastering ourselves is the key to a happy life. But that doesn’t make it any less difficult to do!
Willpower is a bit of a contradiction.
On the one hand, willpower is like a muscle that you can strengthen. On the other hand, it’s a finite resource. Numerous studies have pointed out that when we have to exert self-control, we become depleted. Quite literally in fact – using our willpower actually burns up the glucose in our brains at a faster rate. (Takeaway lesson? Eat a snack before you go car shopping or have that difficult conversation with a loved one.)
Making decisions is one of the most exhausting things we do.
If you want to reserve your willpower for more important decisions, minimize the small, meaningless decisions in your day. (One way I do this is by grocery shopping at ALDI or Trader Joe’s where the selection is smaller. I literally feel far less stress as a result. Even my children have commented on this difference! Read more about decision fatigue and how to minimize it in your life here.)
So how do we avoid depleting our willpower? Habits.
The secret of people who manage to exercise daily, build a business, stay happily married, etc is to cultivate habits that make it easier to have discipline. They create routines so that they don’t have to think so much about what the right decision is. When we do something habitually, we don’t fatigue our willpower reserves.
One of the reasons David Allen’s Getting Things Done book was a best-seller, and his system so effective, is that it makes decision making less stressful. This is why any personal organization system works… because it helps you create routines so you don’t have to constantly ask yourself “What now? What’s next?“.
According to the authors of Willpower, “The unconscious mind asks the conscious mind to make a plan.” It’s as if our brain “nags” us to write things down. It needs to know the specifics of what we need to do. Only then can it can relax. Hence the popularity of “brain dumps”, the humble to-do list, and systems like GTD.
Here’s a fantastic quote that I’ve been trying to emblazon on my mind:
“A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.”
– Anthony Trollope
Why should anyone care what Anthony Trollope says? Because he was one of the most successful writers of his time, yet he only wrote for 3 hours a day, while holding down a full time job at the post office. He wrote 47 novels plus other works. He was nothing if not prolific.
Here’s a curious finding about willpower:
Practicing emotional control (such as not swearing in front of your kids) does not strengthen willpower.
However, changing a habitual behavior does. That doesn’t mean one shouldn’t practice emotional control, because without it a civilized society would hardly be possible. What it means is that we should focus on creating good habits. The best habits are ones that lead to “spillover”. Spillover means they create benefits in other, seemingly unrelated, areas of life.
Examples: making your bed in the morning, getting up early, or exercising daily.
A Few Tips On Growing Your Willpower Muscles
- Rest or eat a snack before facing a situation that will deplete you. Times you’ll be making a lot of decisions, such as creating a baby shower registry, or buying a new car. Salesman know that making decisions taxes you and use this fact to their advantage!
- Create routines and habits that make it easy to do positive things and hard to do negative ones. Don’t buy junk food – keeping it out of your house makes it harder to eat. Put your exercise clothing on first thing in the morning so you’re more likely to exercise. Get an accountability partner. Freeze your credit cards. Block social media or other timewasting apps. Use apps that automatically withdraw money from your checking account to save and invest for you. Two of these that I use are the Stash investing app and the Digit savings app.
- Focus on habits that create “spillover” – making your bed and exercising daily are powerful, as is keeping a time log and spending diary.
- Clear out clutter – studies have confirmed a connection between inner peace and outer orderliness.
Another helpful book on willpower and self discipline:
Crystal knows a lot about the science of willpower. She has applied these techniques in her life to create one of the most successful personal finance blogs on the web. All while raising 3 kids and homeschooling. Obviously she knows how to master self discipline!
This book is excellent because it takes the science of Willpower and breaks it down into daily disciplines. Bite size changes are more sustainable for many of us. They stick better because we’re able to make room for them in our lives gradually.
The beginning of the book encourages you to tackle one “mega project” that’s been nagging at you. Instead of trying to complete it all at once and getting discouraged, however, you break it down into baby steps.
I enjoyed this book’s motivational but not preachy tone. Crystal has a way of inspiring you without being condescending. Check it out and learn how to harness the magic of willpower to change your life and help you meet your important goals!