Make Willpower Irrelevant

When you’re building a new habit, do you rely on willpower?

Is willpower the main driver to sustain change?

What can you do when it fails you?

If you want to get to the next level, you need willpower to make creative breakthroughs and steady progress. Don’t you? After all, willpower helps you to beat distractions and delay gratification to make wise choices. But willpower is limited. It gets depleted the more you use it and as the day goes on.

While you could do certain things to boost and improve willpower, you could also shape your environment so you don’t need it. Your situation and circumstances either encourage or discourage positive change.

In episode 31 of The Incrementalist show, you will learn:

1. The stages of change

  • precontemplation (you deny you have a problem)
  • contemplation (you acknowledge there’s a problem and weigh the pros and cons of change)
  • preparation (you commit to the change)
  • action (you behave and act in new ways to effect change, which is shaped by internal factors like willpower and external factors like rewards and consequences)
  • maintenance (you keep the good habits and drop the bad habits)
  • relapse (you slip back into old behavior)

2. Why willpower is not enough to overcome obstacles

3. The problem with decision fatigue and how to reduce it 

  • Make a full, 100% commitment to make the change
  • Get clear and specific on what you really want
  • Define positive goals to approach instead of negative goals to avoid
  • Have implementations intentions and an if-then strategy
  • Choose the big three things you will do to support your priorities
  • Perform a weekly review and planning session 

4. The benefits of imagining the future and future you when making decisions

  • Your future self is how you want to be and show up 90 days, 1 year, and 3 years from now
  • Practice strategic ignorance by blocking things that are not serving your highest goals or desired life
  • Practice strategic remembering by adding reminders of your future self in your current environment
  • Keep visual cues of your wins and progress

5. The importance of making your commitments public and having support networks and accountability partners

6. The Pygmalion Effect, which means you rise or fall to the demands of expectations and situations

  • Your personal history and past affect you, but does not define you, your present, or your future
  • Your emotions are a key source of information in designing your environment

7.  How Forcing Functions put you on the hook for things that matter and help you create desired outcomes

  • Parkinson’s law, i.e. work expands to fill the time allotted for it
  • The 80% approach, i.e. going for 80% gets results while striving for 100% is still thinking about it

8. Peak experiences allow you to stretch and grow beyond your limits

  • The integration of pure work and pure play is necessary for creative insights
  • Mental breakthroughs occur when you engage in deliberate rest, daydreaming and mind wandering, and quiet reflection

9. You usually need willpower to change your environment. But it’s really the environment that allows you to sustain the change.

Resources cited:

Music by:

To listen to episode 31,  Make Willpower Irrelevant, click here. If you prefer to read the transcript, go here. Subscribe to The Incrementalist at Apple Podcasts or other apps.

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Dyan Williams is a solo lawyer who practices U.S. immigration law and legal ethics at Dyan Williams Law PLLC. She is also a productivity coach who helps working parents, lawyers, small business owners and other busy people turn their ideas into action, reduce overwhelm, and focus on what truly matters. She is the author of The Incrementalist: A Simple Productivity System to Create Big Results in Small Steps.


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