Quit Depending on Willpower

Willpower is ineffective in achieving goalsThe American Psychological Association does an annual survey called Stress in America. The most cited reason for not being able to follow through on changes (such as losing weight) is willpower.

What is Willpower?

Willpower is self-control. The ability to delay gratification, a strong determination, or restraint. Willpower is a tool our conscious mind uses to help us control our lives. It carries a negative connotation – deprivation. It is an ineffective way to achieve goals.

Why Willpower is Ineffective

To illustrate why, I’ll share with you what I learned in my neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) training.

Willpower is an ineffective tool to changeThink of your mind as an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg, the part that is above water, represents your conscious awareness. In addition to willpower, we also use rational and analytical thinking as a way to control ourselves. Unfortunately, only about ten percent of what we do, we do consciously.

Below the water line lies the rest of the iceberg, our subconscious mind. This accounts for 90% of our behavior. Herein lies our habits, physiological systems (ie. breathing), impulses and emotions and our strategies for dealing with our world.

When we employ willpower to make changes in our lives, such as weight loss, we are only using ten percent of our mind. However, the other 90% is running the show. You are pitting logic (conscious mind) against emotions and deeply ingrained habits and strategies. As a result, willpower is always going to be a struggle.

If you want to elicit real, permanent change, you have to get your subconscious on board and leverage its power.

Imagination is More Effective than Willpower

There is a reason why diets fail and you have trouble breaking bad habits (habits of thought included).With willpower, you are in a constant battle with your subconscious mind. The odds are against you and your subconscious mind is going to sabotage your efforts.

Instead of having your subconscious fight you, (willpower creates stress by exerting force) you want to win it over so it will work for you. How do you do that?

Luckily, we have the perfect tool – imagination. Imagination is positive and affirming. Using our imagination diminishes stress and opens up our creative channels instead of strong-arming us into submission, like willpower.

Change in itself is often stressful. The key is to find the path of least resistance, make it as easy and fun as possible. Imagination and visualization helps us do that. There are a couple of guidelines to make this work:

  1. Know your “why” – what is motivating you to make this change?  What result or outcome do you want? Just because your spouse, boss, parent, etc said you should do it is not enough motivation and chances are you won’t succeed. Make it personal and meaningful to you.
  2. Make it positive – When you have your why, the reason you want to make this change in your life or why you want to achieve a goal, make sure it’s positive. When times get tough (and there will be some rough patches), your “why” is going to be your life preserver. It’s going to remind you of the big payoff of all this hard work. You’re going to be giving it a lot of focus, so make it positive. If you’re goal is to lose weight because you are tired of being called a fat slob, then all that’s going to do is dredge up bad feelings. And if you’re an emotional eater, next thing you know you’re shoving down donuts as a means to comfort yourself. Instead, focus on the positive aspects of losing weight – having more energy to play with your kids, feeling better, etc.

Once you determine your reasons for making a change/achieving a goal are truly yours and you are motivated to do it, you can enlist the power of your imagination and use visualization instead of willpower.

Note: Imagination/visualization are tools to keep you motivated and should be used in conjunction with action, not instead of. Without action, you aren’t going to achieve anything.

How do you use imagination to help create positive, permanent change? Find a (preferably) quiet place. Giving yourself time right after you wake up or right before you go to bed is ideal but you can do it anywhere – while on the train/bus to work, waiting in line, drinking your morning coffee, taking a shower, etc. Then use your imagination to visualize any of the following scenarios. Make it as real as possible, include sounds, smells, sensations, etc. Evoke as many positive emotions and feelings as you can.

  1. Visualize your life after you’ve accomplished your goal. If it’s weight loss, imagine how you will look in your new clothes and how confident you feel. Picture your new found energy, imagine just how much better you feel when you can climb up stairs or playing with your (grand) children without getting winded. Focusing on the end result will help keep you motivated.
  2. Mentally rehearse. Our brains don’t distinguish between real and imaginary events (which is why our bodies react to imaginary fears as if they were really happening). Athletes employ this technique all the time but it can be used for any situation. You can rehearse a speech, visualizing yourself in front of the crowd, appearing confident, enjoying yourself.
  3. Vent your emotions.Change is hard and one of the things that trips us up is our impulses and emotions. And since what we resist, persists, give them a voice and acknowledge them instead of burying them. If you don’t, eventually they’ll rear their ugly little heads and the littlest thing will push you over the edge. Instead, invite all those emotions in – fear, jealousy, doubt. You can give them names and personalities. Let them have their say and vent. You can do this in your head or you can write it out in a journal, which is my favorite method. The point is, acknowledging them diffuses their power.

When you use these tools, you’ll achieve your goals with less stress because you’re leveraging your subconscious mind with the power of your imagination instead of trying to force yourself through willpower. In other words, which would you prefer, a boss who is a drill sergeant or someone who acts more like a mentor?

 

 

Goal Setting – A little self-knowledge goes a long way

Goal Setting

In my last post, I talked about the formula for successfully achieving our goals. When you’re setting goals, a good place to start is knowing what makes you tick. We all have goals but if you want to increase your odds of actually realizing them, it’s important to know if you are setting the right goals. I can’t stress the importance of this. One of my goals was to go to college. I chose my major because it was the least repulsive of all the business majors, never even considering if I would like the jobs it would get me. I paid the price of that poor decision for decades!

Goal Setting – The First Step

The first step to setting a goal is to assess your personal preferences, what NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) refers to as meta programs. Basically, it’s how you like to operate. Some of us are detail-oriented, some of us are big picture. Do you prefer to work independently or do you thrive in a team – these sorts of questions.

It’s important consider how you work best and if your goal aligns with those preferences or if you’re going against your grain, so to speak. Now, I’m not suggesting you don’t take on new challenges and learn new skills, that’s the reason for goal setting. I’m saying achieving your goals will be easier if you can find a way to do it that utilizes your preferences and strengths. It’s criteria to evaluate not only which goals to set but also how you choose to accomplish them.

For instance, a common goal is to start an exercise program. Many people will rush out this time of year and spend money on fancy machines (which later become very expensive clothes racks…) or on a gym membership. Because that’s what we are programmed to think of when we think “exercise”. I don’t know about you, but I hate going to the gym and none of my memberships have lasted very long.

When this happens, our self-esteem takes a huge hit. We blame ourselves – we lack discipline and willpower and go back to our comfortable, sedentary lifestyle feeling like a failure.

But the problem isn’t us, the problem is we picked the wrong exercise. There are many different paths to achieving our goals, it’s up to us to find the right path, one which makes it easier for us to commit to the challenges we’ll face along the way. So if you don’t like the gym, try yoga, dancing, jump rope, martial arts, running, walking, swimming…you get the idea.

When setting goals, give it some thought. First, is this a goal you really want? Second, is it well suited to your temperament? Can you leverage your strengths?

How do you know if your goal is something you’ll ultimately be happy you spent your precious time on? The truth is, sometimes you won’t know until you try it. For major goals (i.e. going back to school, switching careers), I suggest a trial period before investing too much time and money. Do some research, talk to people who are doing what you want to do. See if you can do some volunteer work or an internship. Otherwise you might feel obligated to stay with it even though you hate it.

I thought it would be fun to be an interior designer but the reality of what one actually does vs. what I thought they did convinced me to stick to decorating my own home for fun.

Humans are goal-oriented. Part of this journey we call life is setting goals and seeking out new opportunities to challenge ourselves and grow. The first step before embarking on any goal is to make sure it’s a goal you truly want and pick the plan best suited to your personality.

If you are having trouble achieving your goals and feel like you are spinning your wheels, check out my book Stop Dreaming About Your Life and Start Living It, Reignite your passion for life by achieving your goals.

 

Celebrating Failure

flagon-1331087_1280Failure has gotten a bad rap. It’s one of those charged words and often a fear of failure is cited as a reason why some people can’t move forward. And that’s a HUGE problem, especially if you want to pursue a fulfilling, meaningful life.

Failure is defined as the lack of success. It’s nothing more than a way to evaluate our progress. Without failure, we can’t grow. Success teaches us nothing. Failure always teaches us something.

The problem is that at some point we started making a judgement about failure, attaching a negative connotation to it when, in actuality, it’s a neutral event. All failure means is you didn’t achieve the outcome you wanted.  This is how children (and everyone else…) learn and grow. The square block didn’t fit into the round hole. So we tried a different hole.

Somewhere along the way we started getting a different message. That success was right and failure was wrong. And we lost the distinction between an event/outcome and our very identity. Instead of thinking “that try was a failure”, we tend to think “I’m a failure”.

I like how Joseph O’Connor & John Seymour reframed failure in their book Introducing NLP: Neuro-Linguistic Programming:

“There is no such thing as failure, only results. These can be used as feedback, helpful corrections, a splendid opportunity to learn something you had not noticed. Failure is just a way of describing a result you did not want. You can use the results to redirect your efforts. Feedback keeps the goal in view. Failure is a dead end. Two very similar words, yet they represent two totally different ways of thinking.”

Failure is our teacher. Maybe you didn’t achieve what you had hoped but find the lesson and try something else. Eventually you will find something that does work. And as a result you will have grown and learned and changed in ways that you never could have imagined.

So from now on, celebrate failure!