We often talk about motivation in the context of what drives us to get started, but how about what keeps us going?
Motivation is what keeps us focused on long-term goals. We have to deal with willpower, though, too. And our willpower relates to our ability to resist short-term gains in order to serve the long-term goal.
Let’s say we want to save money to pay for a new home. One day, on our way home from work, we spot the most a-ma-zing shoes in the shop window. You can think of 100 rationalisations for why you need the shoes, but the truth is: you JUST want them.
In that moment, it’s your willpower that will determine whether you give in to the short-term gain of getting the shoes (and feeling temporary satisfaction) or stay true to your long-term goal of affording a new home.
It’s often thought that willpower is purely a reflection of our self-discipline. That is a HUGE over-simplification. Besides, it would suggest that we can just bully ourselves into achieving our goals. But let’s be honest: how often has that tactic worked for you?
Willpower isn’t some magic force that we either can or cannot wield in accordance to our will. It’s much more complex and subtle. And it’s always in flux. Some days we’re perfectly capable of not buying the shiny, glittery thing in the shop window. And other days, not so much.
Willpower is influenced by our emotional state, how rested we feel, how much we’ve denied ourselves other things in recent times, and even on what (and when) we eat. Health Coach and 21st Century Medicine Woman, Heather Dane, says,
Willpower, like a muscle, becomes fatigued from overuse but can also be strengthened over the longterm...
And although she discusses willpower specifically in the context of weight loss, there is some universal truth to her proposed willpower-building tips.
#1. - TAKE BABY STEPS
You may very well be committed to becoming a green-juicing, vegan yogi. But if you’re currently a carnivorous couch potato, it will take a little time to build new habits. Start by changing a meal a week, then three, and eventually one a
day. Then before you know it, you’ll have built the habit of a new diet. Or start by walking to work, or parking a few blocks away once a week, and build up the habit to more days or other forms of exercise.
#2. - PLAN AHEAD
You may think this one is pretty specific to dietary goals, but I feel it can be applied more broadly. Thinking about times, activities, and situations where our willpower may be challenged (and coming up with a plan to deal with that) seems like common sense to me. Are you trying to save money? Then it’s probably a good idea to say no to your friend when she invites you on a shopping trip to your favourite department store. It can even be a good idea to start making shopping lists—and only go to the market for groceries AFTER you’ve had a solid meal. So you’re not tempted to spend money on items you don’t really need.
#3. - SPEND TIME IN THE PRODUCE AISLE
We’re going metaphorical again. Because whatever your goal is, it’s a good thing to get well-informed about the skills, products, and training, etc that you’ll need to invest time and/or money in. Know your options, try new things, and be open to new options presenting themselves to you as you explore.
#4. - EMBRACE EASE
When you start working towards your goal, start with a few things that really excite you and come with a sense of flow. Give yourself some easy wins to give your motivation and willpower a boost. And always look for ways to achieve your
goals that give you joy along the way; find an exercise regime that feels fun, cook meals you really enjoy, and hang out with people that make you feel good.
#5. - TAKE HEALTHY SNACKS WITH YOU
Yeah, this sounds pretty dietary. But if we think of snacks as little pick-me-ups, then perhaps they work in other contexts, too—although, since Heather points out that willpower and blood sugar are closely linked, the snacks may also be a helpful tool. Find ways to nourish your mind and soul in the pursuit of your goals. Maybe your goal is to set up a side gig to bring in some more cash. A figurative healthy snack could be some time off or investing in a new hobby, since side-gigs often involve monetising our current hobby. Finding new ways to relax will help us stay motivated and make it work.
#6. - LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
Every goal you’re pursuing will require physical, mental, and emotional investments. So paying attention to what your body is telling you is always a good way to keep track. Check in with yourself regularly in case you need to be flexible and readjust your course: Are you getting too tired? Do you feel like you’re becoming too obsessed? Are you noticing that you’ve begun to feel super anxious? It helps to write down your observations so you can detect trends and possibly make some changes to your plans in order to create a more supportive environment for yourself ).