I learned a lot from being forced to get through a sleepless night. When my first daughter was born I was in complete shock at how little sleep I would get. I struggled each time I had to get up to help feed her, change her or just calm her down. In the morning I would have a difficult time making it to work on time and then making it through the day with such exhaustion.
But over time it got easier. By the time we had our second daughter, I would quickly wake up and tend to her. I could wake up over and over throughout the night and get little sleep. Somehow I got up for work and would make it through the day. It wasn’t always easy but I was shocked at how much easier it was once I got used to it.
This is true for any number of things. It could be getting used to college courses for the first time, starting an exercise routine, eating healthy, budgeting your money etc. The most difficult time is the beginning when you have to struggle and usually aren’t making great strides. Once you get used to the work, it becomes easier yet you are able to do a lot more.
The reason is that we are adjusting our habits and routines and they are very powerful. So waking up throughout the night was new and took me away from the normal way I slept. It changed my routine in a way that was uncomfortable and difficult.
But over time the new routine would become more and more automatic. It became much less painful and I could function on much less sleep than I ever thought possible.
The same thing happened years ago when I started to wake up earlier for a new job. Initially it was tough. I didn’t want to wake up and used the snooze way more than I should. But over time I started to get used to the new time, so much so that I would even wake up automatically on the weekends at this earlier time. So when I was able to sleep longer, my body wouldn’t let me.
Recently I came across a video of 2 Navy SEALs talking about waking up at 4:30am every day. They said that it became easier and easier over time. They argued that this meant that willpower wasn’t finite and that we grow our willpower as we use it.
I don’t think this is what is happening. I think that we are shifting from using willpower initially to get us to follow the new routine, to using habit. The reason it seems like we have more willpower is simply because we have the right habits to keep adding more positive behaviors. So we wake up early and then add in an exercise routine. Then we start eating healthier.
It isn’t that our willpower is growing. It is that we have habits that automatically drive positive behavior and our willpower allows us to keep adding more.
This is the reason I focus so much on building the right habits. By shifting these positive behaviors from willpower to habit we can make it easier and easier to keep following them. We make it more automatic instead of a struggle.
This is how we can use the systems and habits approach to improvement. We can create new routines and use our willpower to initially drive the behavior until it starts to become automatic. Then we can shift from using willpower to keep the behavior going to using habit to keep the behavior going.
So fight through the initial struggle and work hard to make sure the new positive behavior becomes habit. Once it does, everything will become much easier.