How’s your willpower?
Is it healthy and mighty?
If it is, I’m very happy for you.
Mine has always been weak.
I was the kind of kid whose parents are told by teachers that “he is smart, but he doesn’t work hard enough”.
I still remember the guilt for not having enough will to do more, to do better.
Add to this that my father was a strong-will man. When he wanted something, he always made it happen.
I was not like him.
First of all, because I never knew what I wanted with enough clarity. And second, because even when I thought I knew what I wanted, I lacked the willpower to do the work to get it.
I was lazy, and I felt weak and wrong.
Though, results were telling a different story.
Growing up, my results at school were above average, sometimes even excellent. As soon as I graduated, I found a good job that started a successful career by all measures.
I’m delighted with the life I had.
Delighted but not as much proud.
Because of my lack of willpower, I always thought I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time.
It wasn’t my doing. I was just a lazy lucky guy.
A few weeks ago I decided it was time to dig deep into this with my coach.
We took a look back at all my previous successes. Analysing the reasons that made me succeed I realised that there were always some external elements determining my results; a supporting team or partner, the right location, an accountability structure and so on.
So, apparently, I was right; I was not the master behind my achievements.
I have to thank the circumstances.
Then one of those revealing questions emerged; “Who or what created those external elements?”
That was indeed an AHA moment.
Because it was me.
I choose to work in that company, with that team. I decided to move to that place. I created that space in my house. I developed that accountability structure.
It was my doing. So maybe I did more than I thought.
Here’s what I’ve learned from this inquiry into my lack of willpower.
Push vs Pull
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash
I know people who push through things to get what they want. Their commitment, resilience and grit are admirable. No matter the obstacles they find on their path, they keep pushing.
And the more they push, the more they are energised and motivated. It is as if their willpower is fueled by the resistance they encounter. My father was one of them.
I am not like that.
My willpower runs out as soon as I start whatever I want. So, when I try to push myself into doing something, most of the time I fail. And, believe me, I can be very good at finding excuses and procrastinate.
In the past, I used to push myself even when the results were not coming. I thought it was the only way to do something and own the achievement. But that attitude led only to failure, shame and guilt.
No, pushing doesn’t fuel my willpower.
I am a pull type of person.
Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash
I am like water.
You can try to push the water towards something, but most likely it won’t work. In particular, if the direction is upward.
Instead, if you create an empty space before the water, it will flow into it, naturally.
I need to be in an environment that pulls me in the direction of what I want to achieve.
I need to be pulled into the results. Like water.
Master the Environment.
“The addict only needs to change one thing… their whole damn life.” — Ben Hill, PhD
To make it very simple, you can think of your environment as the sum of everything existing outside of your head. The physical space in which you live and work, the people and relationships, the tools you use, the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the routines you have, everything outside your mind contributes to your environment.
If you also are a pull type of person, the first step is to accept that the environment is more powerful than your willpower. Like water, you will always adapt to the situations you are living and working in.
The key is to transform this apparent weakness in strength.
If your environment controls you, then use your willpower only to steer the environment in your favour. Then you can save your willpower for other tasks and let the environment pull you towards your goals.
I know, the amount of things you can control or influence in your life, is limited. But the good news is that most of the time, you don’t have to do much. Just some little tweaks to turn your environment in your favour.
Last week I experienced the power of a small change in my environment.
Lately, I found myself wasting too much time on youtube. It’s like an addiction, a single video to relax my mind easily slip into a series of meaningless videos that eat big chunks of my time and undermine my focus.
The problem is that the computer is my primary working tool. I cannot just stay away from youtube.
The solution was simpler than I thought.
One day I went to work in my usual café, and when I got there, I realised that I had forgotten my earplugs.
Without them, I couldn’t watch any video in a public space without disturbing all the clients. So, no youtube that day and I ended up writing for three hours without distractions.
If you are a pull type of person, you should learn to master your environment.
And the great thing about shaping the environment is that you need to do it only once. At the very beginning, when your willpower is still strong enough. And then let the environment you just shaped pull you towards your goal.
If you are struggling to push through the things you want to do, you may be a pull type of person. So, stop pushing so hard for a moment and check your environment.
Are the people around you supporting your goal? Is your space helping you to focus or is it a source of distractions? Do you have an accountability partner or structure?
The key to a better you may be just around you.