Rule #1

by Mark on October 11, 2012

Have you ever tried to make the same change over and over again but just couldn’t make it stick? I know that I have. After studying case after case where people successfully changed, and then comparing them to cases where people failed, I noticed a common denominator. It all has to do with willpower.

You’re probably thinking, “Duh, I already know that I need more willpower, YOU IDIOT! That’s the problem! Sheesh!”

First of all, don’t call me an idiot. Secondly, more willpower is NOT the solution. Willpower doesn’t last! It is unreliable. It can’t be depended on.

Willpower is an exhaustible resource.

According to research done by Roy Baumeister and other psychologists, every time we exert self-control, we use up some of our willpower reserve. The technical term is “ego depletion.” It is very much like a muscle getting tired.

Consider the example of being on a diet with a big plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies laying on the kitchen counter. Each time you pass by the cookies and resist them, you use up a little more of your willpower. If you keep passing by the cookies and use up the rest of your willpower, eventually you will be doing a Cookie Monster imitation and demolishing the plate of cookies.

Your probability of changing successfully varies inversely with the willpower required to change.

The more willpower that will be required to change, the lower your chances of success. The less willpower that will be required, the greater your chances of success. It’s that simple.

This inverse relationship implies a very simple solution. Take willpower out of the equation. Since willpower is so unreliable, we need to try to find ways to reduce the amount of willpower necessary to perform the desired behavior.

If you want to improve your chances of changing, always follow Rule #1.

Rule #1 — Minimize the willpower requirement of the desired behavior.

What are some ways that you can reduce the willpower requirement associated with changing? In the case of the cookies, not keeping cookies in the house would dramatically reduce the willpower required to resist cookies. Filling up on healthy foods and not starving yourself would help. Getting plenty of sleep helps.

What other strategies can you use to minimize the willpower requirement of your desired behavior?

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