One of the most frequent questions I get from friends and colleagues is:
Is it possible to increase willpower?
Yes! And it’s scalable!
What I mean by scalable is that no matter what’s your willpower level at the moment, you can find a task that fits you. If you think you have no willpower at all, then find something really easy to do.
If you want to clean your house, then cleaning everything at once may seem insurmountable. Break it down to the smallest tasks you can manage.
At the end of this post I will give you a system to get massive results.
Why is Willpower important?
There’s practically nothing you can’t do when you put your mind to it.
People often think of willpower as doing the one very hard thing. And yes, that too, is willpower when you complete the monster report at work or muster up the will to clean your apartment. But that is just the tip of the iceberg.
What you should aim for is consistent action over long periods. Something that you do day after day ad nauseam. You do it so often it becomes boring, and you want to change that, but you don’t because you know that if you continue there’s nothing that can stand between you and your goals.
There are many simple ways to increase willpower.
Wash one plate
Let’s say you have a mountain of unwashed dishes in your sink. You can feel that “I have no willpower to do anything”. If you want to wash them all at once, then you will never start. Make a plan that’s easy to execute.
In the unwashed dishes example, you can wash the dishes you just used and one more item. You may end up washing more than one old item. Even if you go one by one; you will finish doing all your dishes at some point in the future.
The key is consistency!
You are only as lazy or lacking in willpower as you think you are. ~ Ken Christian
Put one clothing item in the closet
Now moving on to other items that need to your attention. First, decide to not leave a mess from now on. Everything you use you will put back to its place and then add just one more item. As time goes by, your place will get cleaner and cleaner.
By the end of the process, you don’t have to clean anything as you don’t leave a mess anymore. Now you can move on to other cleaning tasks like dusting and vacuuming.
It could take months!
You will get there!
When you want to get fit, you may think about one-hour sessions in the gym.
No! Don’t do that.
Do one pushup or squat after you wake up.
After a week, add another pushup. And then another. I guess you see where this is getting.
In a year, you will do 52 pushups every morning after you wake up. It will take you about 100 seconds.
Pro tip: As soon as your willpower permits, add daily walking to your exercises. Walking is one of the best things you can do for your body and mind.
The mistake many people make is that they start to train their willpower from the hardest tasks they can find:
- Clean the whole house
- Get your inbox to zero emails
- Run every day
Do not do that!
Let’s say that you go to the gym, put 300 pounds (136kg) on the bar, and cannot push it up from your chest 10 times. The chances are that you may not be able to do it. Does it mean that you are a failure?
No! It doesn’t!
Start with the weights that you can work with. Then gradually you will get to the level where you can bench press 400 pounds (181kg).
The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win. ~ Bobby Knight
It will take time, but you have to start at the level that you can handle.
From my personal experience, when I started running, I ran for a minute and then walked a minute. I covered maybe max 3 miles (5 km). Last summer, I ran 105.5 km which is two-and-a-half marathons back to back.
Small willpower exercises you can use
One willpower exercise that I use myself and recommend as an easy place to start from is brushing your teeth. Now, there are levels to this. If you don’t brush your teeth, then start doing it.
If you brush your teeth every day, then switch hands. Start brushing your teeth with your weaker hand. If you have brushed your teeth with your right hand until now, switch the hand to left.
That is it!
You will feel a fair bit of discomfort in the beginning, but it is one of the easiest ways to increase willpower gradually.
Stop swearing and using strong language. If possible, ask your family members or coworkers to notice when you use the language that drunken sailor would.
Set up a swear jar and give yourself a fine every time you speak the way you shouldn’t. The fine for swearing should be large enough that you wouldn’t want to do it. For some people, it may be a dollar for others 5.
Promise to use the contents of the swear jar to buy gifts for the family or buy pizza for everyone in the office.
Is willpower self-control?
The short answer:
So, what’s the difference?
Most of life’s actions are within our reach, but decisions take willpower. ~ Robert McKee
Willpower is the mental energy you have. Some people have more of it the other less. Willpower is a finite resource. If you are working on some very demanding tasks, then you will run out of willpower and can’t continue.
Sometimes you have more willpower than you think you have. In this case, you think you have given your all and cannot continue, but then you find a hidden reserve and can go on.
No matter how large your willpower reserves are, you will run out of it if the task is too big for you. But it’s possible for you to increase willpower with practice.
Self-control is the action you take. You use willpower to control yourself. For example, when you are running a long-distance race, and there’s only a little bit left. You may feel that you have nothing more to give and quit the race. But you can pull yourself together and finish the race.
The difference is how much willpower reserves you still have. For example, you can increase willpower to stop smoking or to achieve other specific goals.
The battle between your present and future self
Every day, we make decisions that have good or bad consequences for our future selves. Can I skip flossing just this one time? Daniel Goldstein makes tools that help us imagine ourselves over time so that we make smart choices for future us.
When I say, “Think about the future where you get to reach the goals you want.” Think about your bigger objectives, how far in the future is that?
Is it tomorrow or next month or in a year?
Maybe 3, 5, or even 10 years?
One thing that separates addicts from other people is the length of the future. Some people focus on the next fix and others focus on the big goals in their lives.
Whatever your goals, big goals take years.
Change your mindset to think in terms of years instead of months.
Of course, you should have short-term goals. It’s a good idea to make a New Year’s resolution about the things you will improve this year. Make those resolutions stepping-stones to your larger goals.
Set your huge goal. Take a small step right now. Repeat until done! ~ Priit Kallas
How long will willpower last?
All the good things you have in your life need constant attention. As with exercising so with willpower, you have to make it a part of your lifestyle.
The good news is that as you increase willpower, your default mode keeps it going for you. If you don’t quit doing the things that require willpower, then you will maintain your willpower level.
If you want more willpower, do more demanding tasks.
Increase the load of your willpower exercises.
Whatever you do, don’t fall back to your old self. Then your willpower muscle will deteriorate, and you have to build it up again.
How to make baby-steps to huge achievements?
Make your intermediate goals input based.
Input-based goals mean that you work 1 hour every day on a project. You will continue to put in the hour every day until you reach your main goal.
For example, when I was building an audience for one of my websites, the goal was to make it one of the biggest sites in its industry. I didn’t have any tricks up my sleeve. I’m not smart like that.
But I can grind.
When you put in the hours, for years, then you will get the result you are after. My website traffic ballooned more than 20 times in less than three years. After that, I sold the website.
And it’s repeatable!
And it builds your willpower!
Let’s say you like dogs. Create a website about dogs that will give you financial freedom. It’s easy. Follow these steps:
- Create a website
- Put in one or two hours every day
If you put in more hours per day, you will get to the profit faster. However, it doesn’t have to be a full-time job. Just a few hours after you finish your day job.
You don’t need any bright ideas. You don’t have to have the answer to the question “what makes your dog-site different form all the others.”
Put in the hours, and you will be financially independent in about three to five years.
You don’t need motivation
Motivation and inspiration are for people who want to have fun.
I don’t like fun. I tried it once, didn’t like it.
Focus on process and systems.
Your system is simple; every day, work on your project for an hour or two. You may want to set a goal to get to 1000 visitors per month, and then per week, and then per day. But it doesn’t matter if you set those goals. You will achieve them if you follow the system and grind relentlessly.
Your goals may be completely different. It doesn’t have to be web-based. Maybe you want to become an artist or a musician. Maybe you want to work with your hands to create beautiful furniture or clothing.
The easiest goals may be related to internet-based services. Next, there are things that you can physically make yourself. There may be limits to this approach when you need massive resources for building a plant or other physical assets. But even in those cases, there is a ton of manufacturing on-demand resources available. And some of the largest businesses in the world started in the owners’ garages.
Level of effort
To get your project going, you don’t need much at all. The only thing you need is consistency. I suggest that you start with a lower level of effort than you can sustain.
Then scale up.
Slowly increase your level of effort over the weeks and months.
You don’t have to do 10-hour days. The same way as one time in the gym will not make a difference. What you need is a relentless grind until you get what you need.
Figure out what is the level of effort you can maintain indefinitely?
Over time, the work that you put in will become a habit. Then you can scale up. But even then, make sure you sleep 8 hours every night. Take at least one day completely off every week. Leave enough time for friends and family.
Willpower becomes a habit
In the beginning, you may need willpower to keep going. Over time, your daily routine becomes a habit. After that happens, you can cruise along, almost like on autopilot.
Focus and fear
Last but not least, you need is focus. If you don’t focus on a single goal, then you are a lot less likely to achieve any of your goals. Focus on a single side project, and you could put in 1000 hours in a year. When you dabble in four different areas, then you will not average even an hour per day.
Fear is the reason people don’t focus. We like to hedge our bets. We tell ourselves that if I only do this one thing and it fails, then I’m royally screwed. But if I do all these other things, then they will keep me afloat.
Sometimes, it may even be true. However, when you splinter your attention and effort, then you push your results far into the future that may never come.
Focus on one thing!
Find that one more thing you will do from now on.
Just a bit more demanding than your current level.
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