4 Ways to Build Your Willpower

Posted 11.28.2011

It’s Monday morning, so it’s time for me to write a blog post. If you’re a regular reader, you may have noticed that I typically post on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Unless I’m on vacation, it’s three days a week most of the time. That’s been the schedule for about three years now. This is my 574th post. Since the average post is about 500 words, that’s about 287,000 words. The typical business book is around 50,000 words long. If you do the math, all of those posts add up to five or six books.

All of these stats are prompted by an article I read in the New York Times over the weekend called Willpower: It’s All in Your Head.  In it the authors challenge the point of view that humans have a limited amount of capacity for willpower. They’ve conducted their own experiments and have concluded that if you believe willpower is limited, it will be.  Conversely, if you believe it is unlimited, it will be.  It reminds me of something Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t; either way you’re right.”

It seems like two or three times a week someone will say something to me along the lines of, “I don’t know how you write all of those blog posts.  You must have so much willpower.” Honestly, I hadn’t really thought about it that way. Blogging was something I decided to do and I just kept doing it. After reading the article in the Times, I’ve concluded that maybe there is some willpower involved in blogging consistently (or going to yoga consistently, or keeping up with my work, or avoiding stuff that’s bad for me, or anything else that one does that requires persistence).

So, as is my fashion, I’ve given some thought to the steps I take to build my willpower. I’m not holding myself up as the willpower world champ. I’m not by any stretch. (You should see me rip through a bag of potato chips for instance.) These are, though, some things that I do to follow through on what I commit to doing.  Your mileage may vary.  I’d love to hear what willpower building steps work for you through your comments on the post.

  1. Know Your Payoffs:  To have the willpower to blog three times a week or go to yoga six times a week, I have to be really clear about the payoffs on the time invested. The return on investment is clear in both cases for me. Blogging helps me organize my thinking, keeps me engaged with what’s going on in the world and has introduced me to a community of people I would not have otherwise known. Yoga makes me feel better physically, mentally and emotionally. It also has its own nice community of people. It’s hard to have the willpower to follow through if you don’t know your payoffs.
  2. Schedule It First:  Knowing my payoffs help me establish my priorities. My priorities get scheduled first. Unless there is an unavoidable conflict with its own high payoff, I stick with the scheduled priorities. It doesn’t really feel like willpower. It just feels like following the routine that’s been scheduled on my calendar.
  3. Turn Off Distractions: There are so many ways to get myself distracted from what I’m really trying to do. Checking my email is one.  Listening to the Dan Patrick Show when I’m trying to blog is another.  I don’t have the willpower to avoid the distractions if they’re on, so I turn them off.
  4. Be Realistic and Self-Forgiving:  One of the great truths in life is that stuff happens. Conflicts arise, energy is low, the idea well is dry. I’ve learned to accept over time that stuff happens and that I’m not always going to live up to my commitments.  It’s called being a human being. I’ve come to the conclusion that one data point does not a trend make. If I have an off day, I look on it as exactly that – an off day.  It’s not how things are going to be for the rest of my life. I can start over tomorrow. I’ve learned that my willpower is more likely to serve me if I give myself a break every so often.

So, that’s what works for me on building my willpower. What about you? What keeps you going and forging ahead?