A big lie is that we just need more discipline. “If you really wanted to get stuff done, you would. You simply have to be (more) disciplined. No pain, no gain. Just do it!” We’ve all heard it from all sides, including our inner voices. Yeah, and if it were that easy, we’d all have our to-do lists done, be at our goal weight, and have all sorts of medals and trophies displayed to be admired.
But the truth is that we can’t be “on” all the time with willpower being on stand-by ready for action at a moment’s notice. Don’t ask me to do complex math first thing in the morning, and don’t ask Jeff to refrain from carbs at a cookie bake-off. Decision fatigue studies tell us don’t set yourself up to make 100’s of decisions at the end of the day.
So when we should depend on our discipline comes down to the two T’s: Temptation and Timing. Willpower is like a lot of resources. It can be depleted or weakened.
It is helped by lowering the hurdles it needs to clear to do its job. Remove temptation during the times you need discipline to not give in. For example, don’t have social media apps as easy to get to as your work apps during work hours. If you are struggling with work leaking into home, don’t have your work apps easily accessible during non-work hours, either. Don’t want to eat the cookies? Don’t buy them. You need discipline once – at the store, not every day to summon the willpower to not eat that sleeve of Thin Mints for lunch. You can also something like the Pomodoro Technique to create focus time with the knowledge that it will end. Put the temptation at the time it can be succumbed to or never even seen.
We have all of those things that “they” tell us we need to do (I just gave some suggestions above), but it is really us telling ourselves. I can tell you not to buy cookies or set timers, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t choose to do so. In order to succeed, we have to take responsibility for our own actions. We can control precious little in life, but we can control our thoughts, actions, reactions, and choices. Try as we might, we can’t control anybody else’s thoughts, actions and reactions, and choices. And let’s face it, we are handfuls enough on our own. That means if we focus on our thoughts, actions, reactions, and choices, that’s plenty. Then give yourself leeway to be you. Someone else brings in cookies, well, then try not to visit the table 50 times, but also, maybe just take the one cookie and savor it. Set a 5-minute timer to pull yourself away from Reddit (the Reverse Pomodoro?). Know thyself and own your s***. Then plan around it.
Thanks for reading. More next week, Erin.