So, we’ve seen that we have a finite reserve of willpower or self-control, and that it’s related to our energy levels, that even the most experienced decision makers run out of the self-control required to make decisions. But also that strong self-control can leads to a more successful future!
Then I introduced Mark Richardson, who was able to stick to tough long term goals, leading him to the 2012 Ironman world championships. So if it’s finite, and even the best struggle maintaining it, how on earth can it be used to achieve a 10 year goal, and ultimately a more successful future?
Major long term goals help set a direction, and you work in that direction bit by bit, day by day. So, firstly, use your self-control to achieve the toughest tasks each day that will move your forward… before it runs out. Or as Brian Tracy wrote about in Eat That Frog! if the first thing you do each day is eat a frog, it gets easier from then on.
Because self-control is an expensive activity, using up precious energy, wouldn’t it be nice if we could avoid dipping into those limited reserves, particularly when doing something regularly like training for Ironman, or writing, or running quality meetings? This is where our ability to adapt and learn, coupled with our brains natural desire to avoid expending excess energy come to our rescue.
Our brains have an adaptation mechanism we commonly call habit forming. Simply summarised, repeated exposure to an activity in tandem with a trigger, like getting out of bed or preparing for a regular meeting, combine to form a habit – when I get up I put on my cycling gear, drink some water and go for a ride.
When you start doing your new desired activity, it’s hard. It takes self-control, sometimes copious amounts. But after a period of time – shorter if you really want to do the task, longer if you don’t – your brain adapts to the behaviour. This adaptation removes some or all of the need to consciously drive yourself, a new habit is formed, you’re away on auto-pilot.
People with high self-control are more successful at forming good habits – they stick to their tasks long enough for the adaptation to occur.
So boosting your self-control muscle is worthwhile, and we’ll look at that next.