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Willpower Has Been Overrated, This Is What You Need Instead To Succeed

Willpower Has Been Overrated, This Is What You Need Instead To Succeed

Willpower can be described as the ability to control or reject desires to indulge in harmful and useless habits. It also allows people to arrive at decisions and then follow them through with perseverance until success has been achieved. Additionally, willpower can help us delay gratification, which as humans, we’re hard-wired to want instantly.

To give you a concrete example of willpower, just think of school. Students need willpower to self-control themselves to maintain attention in class, and to avoid breaking school rules in order to be seen as a good student.

    In our modern age, willpower has become known as an important element in success. By has it always been this way?

    How We Came to Believe That Willpower Leads to Success

      In ancient times we didn’t need willpower, instead, we followed our natural instincts to survive.

      However, as civilization evolved, humans wanted to put things in order. We started to create rules for people to follow. And only by following these rules could someone get what they want, and survive in a modern society. Because of these rules, we started to make self-discipline a virtue.

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      In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a marshmallow experiment proved willpower was the key to success.[1] The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a series of studies on delayed gratification led by psychologist Walter Mischel, then a professor at Stanford University. The study was simple but revealing. It tested children on a choice between the following rewards:

      1. Immediately being able to eat a marshmallow.
      2. Waiting 20 minutes and then being able to eat two marshmallows.

      The results of the study were fascinating. Children who were able to wait for the double reward, typically fared better in later life than those children who took the instant gratification route.

      Because of this famous study, more emphasis began to be put on the benefits of strengthening willpower.

      Nowadays, it’s fair to say that willpower controls a lot of what we do – as we see it as something critical to reaching goals and achieving things. And it’s not just about I want power, but also about I will, and I won’t.[2]

      Willpower training has also become big business. There’s countless workshops, online seminars as well as best-selling books such as Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength and The Willpower Instinct.

      Try searching for “willpower boost” on Google, and you’ll find thousands of results for articles that purport to show you the ways to do it.

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      The Limited Power of Willpower

        However, most people’s willpower remains weak. Some of the reasons for this are:

        • Emotions – which can affect our motivation levels.
        • Our physical condition – are you getting enough sleep? (For example.)
        • Previous failures – repeating these in our minds kills our willpower.[3]

        On top of the above issues, you may have noticed that even when you have an abundance of willpower, it has its limits. Every day, in one form or another, you exert willpower. For instance, if you resist eating a tasty piece of chocolate cake offered to you, then you’ve had to use emotional and mental power.

        Willpower is similar to a muscle. If we overuse it, we get tired. In other words, willpower is a limited resource.[4]

        How to Succeed with Limited Willpower

        Once you realize that willpower has its limits, then the key thing to know is that you must follow a system to reach your goals and dreams. Put systems first, and willpower second.

        Willpower is close to useless, if you do not allow it to work alongside a personal success system.

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        What is this system that I refer to? It’s a system that creates the right conditions in your mind and environment that helps make your success a surefire outcome. With this type of system in place, willpower will simply be an extra bonus in helping you to reach success. But to be clear, with the right system, even if your willpower fails, you’ll still keep on the road to success and achievement. These are the essential steps to build your own success system:

              1. Create an environment that is conducive to success

              Think for a moment about willpower. On its own, it doesn’t place any emphasis on changing your environment, instead, it puts its focus on overcoming your environment. It’s no wonder then, when the limited willpower begins to fail, people succumb to environmental influences – despite their best efforts to resist.

              As human beings, we are consciously and unconsciously influenced by what’s around us. These could be the news we read, the stories our friends tell us, and even the influence our home has on us.

              The secret is to, where possible, create an environment that helps (not hinders) the reaching of your goals. For example, if you want to spot binge eating snacks, give away all your snacks to others, and make sure you can’t reach any kind of snacks at your workplace or home.

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              Your environment can also be used to directly support your goals. For instance, if you want to be a professional artist, surround yourself with professional artists.

              2. Know what makes you happy

              By knowing what makes you happy, you’ll also reveal what motivates you. This is important.

              Take a look around at others, or delve into your past, and you will find that willpower falters when people encounter failure or come across negative events. This clearly demonstrates that willpower is affected by external factors, thus making it unreliable.

              Knowing what makes you happy is the perfect way to stay motivated to reach your goals – even when your willpower crumbles. This can be through rewarding yourself by watching a great movie (once you’ve achieved a goal milestone), or by simply enjoying the inner bliss you receive when walking on the pathway that keeps you happy, motivated and successful.

              Replace Your Old Beliefs – and Find New Success

              Willpower is not the be all and end all we’ve been taught to believe. While it’s certainly a component of success, it’s nowhere near as important as all the self-help gurus claim.

              As I’ve discussed above, having a system and a goal, are much more powerful factors in success than willpower.

              So, now you know the truth about success, take the steps I’ve suggested, and begin achieving more than you ever thought possible. And if you need any further motivation to help you on your way, check out the Lifehack article Make Good Habits Stick Easily With Productive—the Habit Tracker.

              Featured photo credit: Vecteezy via vecteezy.com

              Reference

              More by this author

              Leon Ho

              Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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              Last Updated on July 17, 2019

              How to Make Changes in Life To Be The Best Version of You

              How to Make Changes in Life To Be The Best Version of You

              Let’s start with the problem:

              You get back from work. You’re tired. It was a long day. You know there’s things you could do, to get out of the rut you’re in.

              But, let’s be honest. You really would rather relax, sit down and chill for a bit. Grab a snack. Watch your favourite show.

              By the time you’ve done that, the day’s over. There’s just not enough time. To make this worse – you don’t have the energy or willpower to make changes in your life today.

              So where do you go from there?

              What you need are some easy to apply actions that are proven to work.

              This article is going to give you 4 steps on how to make changes in life so you can follow today and get closer to success – even when you are feeling tired and lazy.

              These steps have proven to work for me, and many of the coaching clients I work with privately.

              1. Squash Inconsistency by Giving up Motivation

              Now most people, when they want to make changes to their lives, focus on making lengthy to-do lists and plans. They think over and over again about what is going wrong, what is going well and what they want, etc.

              All in a bid to push themselves to getting more motivated.

              Guess what? This isn’t going to work.

              Willpower and motivation are feelings. Feelings are vague and unreliable.

              Instead, what you should do is focus on putting your flawed unpredictable self in the best possible environments.

              If you do one thing first from this list, it’s THIS:

              Find and go to the best possible environment for the area of your life you want to change.

              For example:

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              • If you want to get fit, make your first goal to show up at the gym three times a week.
              • If you want to find a new relationship, show up to a meet up in your city for single people.
              • If you want to be productive and make your business idea work, don’t work at home, go to a co working space nearby.

              The reason people fail to become the best version of themselves is because they underestimate the power of environments to influence behavior.

              Accept that you are flawed, prone to distractions and your motivation and willpower will fail you.

              The best hack at your disposal? Show up to “change inducing” environments and get out of your comfort zone (physically)!

              OK. Next step.

              2. Recruit an Elite Team to Help You (For Free)

              Open up any social media platform you’re active on that contains some positive connections you have.

              Send this message to one person you already know and trust ton help you make changes to your life:

              “Hey [first name]. Can I be really frank and honest with you? I’m having one of those – ‘OMG I NEED TO MAKE CHANGES TO MY LIFE!’ moments.

              And I was browsing the internet, looking for tips and this article I came across suggested accountability. So here I am, messaging you to be part of my accountability system.

              My ask is simple.

              Can we sit together once a week at [x place] but do absolutely no socializing? I’ll buy the [coffee/food] and it will be a space to force me to do [x thing]. You literally have to do nothing other than eat the free coffee/food I pay for lol. But it will keep my accountability high, which is what I need.

              What you reckon? Can you help? Thanks!”

              Now obviously, change the language to suit you but you get the idea.

              Not only are you going to environments that will help you make changes, but by bringing a friend (or two), you make it even likelier that you will succeed. It doesn’t even have to be in person, it could be a video call.

              People fail to make changes to their lives because they try to do it all themselves.

              It doesn’t really work in long term, and it doesn’t have to be this way.

              You can recruit and “enlist” people to help you. By doing this, you’re taking care of the up and down motivation you have.

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              Not only are people happy to help, when they see this type of behavior, they’re also inspired and motivated to change their lives. Pretty soon, you end up creating change in not just your life, but other people’s too.

              So when the next dip in willpower comes?

              You have a friend sitting right next to you, watching your every move, making sure you get things done anyway.

              3. Build Good Habits Effortlessly

              Changing your life means changing your day to day habits.

              Habits are automated behaviors you do everyday, like how a clock works, without thinking or motivating yourself to do them.

              Some habits help you to change, others can stop you. One of the best ways to replace your ‘bad’ habits with good ones is to treat them like old clothes. What happens when your t-shirt gets old, faded and out of fashion? You replace it with something new and improved.

              Do the same thing with your habits – upgrade and replace them with something better. Start small, then slowly graduate to higher levels of difficulty.

              Let me give you a clear example of what I mean:

              A few years ago (before it became mainstream), I was trying to start my own habit of meditating every single day to help boost my productivity and mindfulness. I’d done a mind blowing course called Vipassana. It involved 10 days of deeply powerful meditation combined with noble silence in a remote part of the UK.

              Now it was easy to do when I was there (#1 – environment!) with all those other meditators (#2 – people helping me). All I could do was meditate. There were ZERO distractions. I had NO CHOICE.

              When I got home however, after a few days of sticking with it, I quickly caved.

              Those extra 30 minutes of sleep were just so much easier than waking up everyday at 4am for a long one hour meditation.

              So what did I do to build this really important habit?

              Like with most things, I wanted to make changes to my life. I wanted to become my best self.

              I knew how important it was. I just couldn’t follow through consistently and kept failing over and over.

              Then, it hit me.

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              I needed to start small. I made a tiny change, that made all the difference.

              I made a tiny change, that I could stick to – without fail – that has me meditating daily every single day now.

              What was it?

              Instead of trying to do something BIG inconsistently (1 hour of 4am morning meditation) and failing again and again. I decided to do something small consistently.

              Building any good habit really just comes down to repetition. The way the brain is built works in favour of this.

              My new habit became:

              When I wake up, I will fold my bedding neatly. Then I will sit cross legged for 30 seconds with my eyes closed.

              Eventually, once I did this consistently for a few months. I increased difficulty.

              When I wake up, I will fold my bedding neatly. Then I will meditate for 10 minutes.

              Why does this work?

              What’s important here is that the behavior you want (meditating) is tied to another consistent habit (folding your bedding).

              I attached my new habit to one that already is consistent.

              Making it more likely to happen.

              Secondly, I aimed for consistency, not perfection. This is where a lot of people fail. They have an idea of the change they want, but things become all or nothing.

              When you do this, you fail to realize the power of consistency. The brain you have loves patterns. In this case, I trained my brain to repeat a set pattern every morning when I fold my bed.

              There was no motivation or willpower required.

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              This training has gone so far now that if I miss a day of meditating, I really feel uncomfortable. I’m just as conditioned to meditate as most people are to checking their phones in the morning.

              If you want to learn more about quitting bad habits, Lifehack’s CEO also has a guide on it: How to Break Bad Habits: I Broke 3 Bad Habits in Less Than 2 Months

              4. Create More Time by Quitting Social Media

              You know the best thing I’ve ever done for my productivity and it took me 30 seconds to do?

              I deleted all social media apps from my phone and blocked them on my laptop.

              Then, to reinforce it, I told all my friends and followers on Facebook (my most used platform) I wasn’t using it for a while.

              Now, there’s nothing wrong with my social media. Social media is a tool. Tools are neutral. It’s how we use them that is “productive” or “distracting”.

              We each have to judge how healthy our usage is, especially when weighed against unlocking our best self. That said, for most people reading this, including me, I think limiting our usage is a very favorable advantage.

              One of the best ways to make changes in our lives is not to add new tools or tricks. But simply remove things that distract us.

              Social media is something I use heavily for my businesses. Technically I’m a “social media influencer” and “YouTuber”. I need to be posting constantly, right?

              Our situations are unique, so I came up with a unique solution for this. After deleting and blocking these apps from my devices, I installed a social media management software that still allows me to post my updates.

              The big difference, however, is I cannot spend any time scrolling and being distracted.

              Final Thoughts

              Change is not always about more. Sometimes it’s about doing less and getting rid of what distracts or blocks you.

              Trying to do things by yourself is a good way to fail. Share your goals and pitfalls with people, no one helps until you ask.

              Start with small changes consistently instead of big changes failed at consistently. The momentum will give you results over time.

              So what to do next to make changes in your life?

              1. Write down where you are going to GO to create the changes you want.
              2. Message 3 to 4 people on social media and ask them to help you using the message template I gave you.
              3. Choose one small habit to get started with immediately and upgrade it over time.
              4. Delete all, or at least most social media apps on your devices, and notify people you are leaving to make it stick.

              More About Making Changes in Life

              Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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