Mind Article – Willpower Part III


A Note to Self would help

Environmental MotivationThis doesn’t involve Greenpeace , but it’s an essential part of motivation. We have talked about motivation from two sources one is using the source within you and the other is using help from other people around you. The third would be using things around you to help motivate the change.

Ever wondered why the greatest athletes admit that when they were young they used to have an idol or a poster to look at every day?  That’s expert motivation using the things around them, directly linking long term goals to the short term by having an objective (a very tangible one that they can see and identify). It’s a daily reminder of what they want to achieve, it’s something that they look at everyday while paddling that extra mile, forcing in that extra repetition and bringing their bodies to new (and often uncomfortable) zones.

We can always make structural change to the things around us to better help us achieve our goals (even though we are not elite athletes). Making a gym more accessible in your daily walk home helps, or making a healthy breakfast in advance for next morning and planning your meals helps in a weight loss goal. (Conversely, it is also true that putting an ice cream shop at the end route of a jog isn’t a very good idea). Adding small changes to our environment could help our behavior, imagine the incremental compounded effect of everyday constant reminders, these have a surprising effect on our choices and the things we do. Repeat something often enough and the brain would think its possible.

Reminders tell us two things, one is to FOCUS and two is that it’s POSSIBLE. It’s very easy to make that small change in our environment, posters, buying lots of workout wear, even bringing a gym bag to work act as an environmental reminder to keep to your goals. Changes like parking a few blocks away from work and forcing yourself to walk, or having just enough money to take the bus a few stops short of your home would make sure that you don’t skive on the everyday calorie burn and keep to your goals. Adding motivational quotes or having a role model or reminding yourself of stories of people who achieved fitness greatness or just plain greatness would help redraw your boundaries of what you think is possible.

Verdict – When the kids were put in an environment which extols the virtues of self control by having a lot of poster reminders, (about not eating the marshmallows and that they would get more when they resisted for 15 mins ) ALL the kids were able ward off the candy demons of temptations more effectively.

Very often our mind is forgetful, we might intellectually know what to do, but if we do not have constant reminders to make it difficult for us to change, we will often revert back to our old habits (cause we will start finding excuses like blaming our willpower). Make it such that it would be difficult to not change, if you are a chain smoker throw away all your cigarettes and install smoke detectors in your house WITH carpets. If you eat too much, have only enough money in your wallet for your salad and a bus ticket or car ride that stops short of your destination by a mile or two. If you drink too much, ask your friends for friendly photo reminders of yourself while you were drunk and dressed in your Tinkerbelle costume with shaving cream all over your face to put at your desk.

Conclusion – The Three Drivers

Change is a hard task, if it took you many years to get to the state you are now at, it will take a greater effort to change it. Many times we fall to the “willpower fallacy”. That when we fail we attribute it to low willpower and if we manage to succeed we attribute it to kickass willpower. But it’s far from the truth and a huge fallacy.

We succeed in many things because we are motivated and unknown to us, we actually employ the above three principles in play more often than not. Imagine something you are really good at, you didn’t get good at it just by chance, probably there’s someone in your life who taught you and encouraged you (social aspect), then you got better and you develop competency to continue getting better (personal aspect) you start adjusting your lifestyle and the buy things around you that complement (posters, equipment, ect) your competency or even go for courses (structural aspect).

To focus on willpower is to divert your attention from the drivers that are essential to success (personal, social and structural).  We need to give credit to these drivers more because intelligently employing them would make sure that we succeed, while attributing things to willpower (and lack thereof), robs us of our ability to control these drivers. Attributing things due to lack of willpower creates a haven for excuses (i am not good or my willpower is not strong enough).

Unlike willpower, these drivers are completely within our control (locus of control). To succeed in change, all we have to do is decide, and then use these drivers to make sure that our change is sustained. Change isn’t difficult , but sustained change is, and to make a change for life, we need to recognize the drivers and make them stronger. The thing is that we need to be intelligent and we need to work hard to bring all these driver together (personal , social and structural) to help us.

You wouldn’t lift a heavy stone far just by yourself, instead its most effective if you get more people in the job and work together. Likewise drivers would bring us further by working in unison, we could always start a gym program by getting the right personal motivation, get friends to join in and get work things into our life that facilitate this change like dedicating lunch hour solely to gym and a sandwich. All these are doable, it’s just our approach and belief that we can do it that needs tweaking. Stop using weak willpower as an excuse to achieve your goals, it only robs you of your potential, and gives you a perfect excuse for remaining as you are. Throw away the crutch of weak willpower and embrace the fact that you are in charge and that you are in the drivers seat controlling these three powerful drivers that you can use to your advantage just by changing your approach and making efforts to make each work for you instead of against you. Know that a man is great not because of who he is but what he can make himself to be.

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