We can all gain additional strength to do the right thing. While most people assume there is some magical trick to suddenly be able to improve self-control it is actually must simpler.
The way to do this is by using our willpower to build certain habits. Then as those habits become automatic and easy to keep doing, we add more and more.
In other words, we don’t use our willpower to try and control our behaviors randomly, when needed. We structure it so that our willpower is driving future behavior by creating positive habits.
In Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney, the authors talk about the findings of a research project on self-control. They say, “Self-control turned out to be most effective when people used it to establish good habits and break bad ones.”
So instead of expecting willpower to be the force to jump in and keep you on track, turn to habit. Focus on creating new habits that will eventually turn into automatic responses. Then it frees up your willpower to be used in other areas.
If you want to lose weight, don’t expect your willpower to do it alone. Instead focus on creating new habits that will help make it easier to eat healthier and exercise more.
If you incorporate little changes like those, and continue to do them over and over, they will start to be so automatic that you will naturally do them without even thinking.
Your willpower is used initially to make sure you keep at it. But soon enough you won’t even think about it, you will just do it. This is when you stop having to use willpower and instead can reserve that willpower for other areas.
This is the power of habit. It allows you to make changes and ultimately design the life you want. Instead of trying to use willpower and remaining miserable to try and improve, you simply work to find simple, easy changes that you can make and then stick with.
The key is that they can’t be too difficult. Start incredibly small. Plan ahead. Think about a strategy that might help you. Don’t expect miracles in the moment, plan for the moment and make it easier to resist temptation.
This is the systems and habits approach to improvement. It relies on strategic behaviors that we do over and over to turn them into new habits. Then we add more and more until we start to drastically change who we are and what we do.
We look at the full system. Using systems thinking we can start to see how elements connect that might not even notice. We see leverage points in the system. Then we design our behaviors to change the system.
This means that everyone has the power to improve his or her life. Everyone can create new structures that allow him or her to grow and get better over time. We don’t need superhuman self-control; we simply need to take the time to create the right routines and behaviors. You, too, can unlock this great ability so you can start to design the life you dream about.