Need to make a change? Hack your willpower and habits. (Part 2 of 2)
So how can we leverage our willpower to better achieve our goals? Well, there are two aspects: reducing the willpower required to do something, and increasing our willpower reservoir. Willpower is like a muscle; the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. Exercising willpower in any part of your life helps you increase your willpower to use in other parts of your life. In his book Willpower, Thomas Abreu describes the things that wear down our willpower. According to Abreu, Ego Depletion (the loss of willpower) happens due to:
- Exercising Self Control (Not doing undesirable things)
- Exercising Self Discipline (Doing desirable things)
- Decision Fatigue – There is a large body of research on how decisions, however small, make later decision-making worse. This is why many famous people, including Steve Jobs and Barack Obama, have designed their lives to reduce their decision load. For example, they wear the same outfit each day, have default meal decisions, etc.
As we mentioned in the previous article, habits reduce the need for willpower because they happen automatically. Building the right habits can really enable many parts of your life. One of the simplest behavior hacks that has helped me is the habit of starting a timer when you start a task. Once I start the timer, I just start working. There is magic in starting, because it creates the momentum that drives us on. If you are having a trouble starting a task, break it down into the simplest, smallest thing you can make progress on. Our only window of action is the current moment, so all progress is necessarily small. Both of these techniques reduce the “activation energy” you need to start something.
Another big factor in willpower is motivation. In the book Succeed by Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D., she debunks many myths of motivation through many scientific studies. One key myth is that imagining having what you want motivates you to get it (as touted by the book The Secret). Actually, you need to focus on the benefits of what you want and the obstacles you will need to overcome to get there instead. Through my research, I found some great science-backed ways to hack your willpower. Here are several willpower hacks you can incorporate into your daily life:
- Only change 1 or 2 habits at a time to overcome willpower depletion.
- Increase barriers to habits you don’t want. Out of sight is out of mind. For example, don’t leave snacks in plain sight if you are trying to eat healthier.
- Decrease barriers to habits you do want. For example, set your gym clothes out the night before if you want to work out the next day.
- Have self-compassion to avoid the “what the hell effect” or “snowball effect.” When you fail, forgive yourself quickly.
- Create a space between the trigger and the behavior you want. This gives you time to think and change to a desirable behavior.
- Add triggers to your environment for positive habits. This can be as simple as putting a note on your monitor, hanging up art with a quote that is important to you, displaying a picture that inspires you, etc.
- “Eat the Frog” – Your willpower is strongest in the morning, so do the most important, hard-to-start things in the morning.
- Habits, once created, conserve willpower.
- Reduce your decision load by automating decisions. For example, have a go-to breakfast plan and a default meal choice for each restaurant you visit. Having set routines in the morning and night is another example.
I hope these insights and techniques help you to be more successful at making positive changes in your life. I am thankful to be able to share these ideas with you. Happy habit hacking!!!
Written by Guy Bieber
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