I wanna do this and I wanna do that and yet ever time I find myself doing the things I don’t want to do.
15For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.
When I do the things I don’t want to do, why do I do them? Habit! When I do the things I want to do, why do I do them? Habit! Tom Ziglar (Zig’s son) once said “replace bad habits with good habits”.
How do I get from bad to good? I pay the price. I use my willpower and I use a process of goals and practice. I admit my problems and bad habits to myself, someone I trust, and God. I forgive myself, recognize that I want to change. Then I realize that change is uncomfortable and it takes time and not just the 21 days that has been the myth propagated in recent years. A scientific study found that ON AVERAGE it takes 66 days to form a habit. The range of days for habit formation in the study group was from 18 to 254 days. I find this to be a major relief! I don’t know how many times that I set a goal, maintained it for 21 days, wished it was a habit and then BAM it was gone.
Another thing I’ve discussed is that the new habits and behaviors I want to form need to be mine. They need to point to my big WHY in life. Here are two posts that discuss that more in depth:
How much willpower do I have? I’ve come to find that I have a limited supply. Just enough to make it through each day. God is good! Every decision I make each day sucks a bit of willpower out of my daily supply. It cannot be overdrawn and there are no overdraft fees. When I decide I’m going to do something. The farther away from my big WHY in life the thing is that I decide to do, the bigger the withdrawal is from my willpower bank account. On the other extreme, habits are nearly free. They are automatic, they don’t take much if any decision making because they have become part of a routine or pattern. Sometimes they are directly related to a trigger: every night when I head to bed, I floss and brush and drink a big glass of water. The air is pretty dry and dehydrates me easily if I don’t watch out. At that time, I’m pretty much out of will power because I used the last bit of it to choose to go to bed at 9:00. I wish going to bed was as easy as getting up.
Lets tie in finances. Every month, we have a set amount of money coming in. We set a budget and tell every dollar where it is going to go. When I have a good day, I used the same approach to planning my willpower consumption as I use when we set up our monthly budget only with a bit less detail.
When do I have the greatest balance in my willpower account? First thing in the morning. What costs me the most willpower? That activity that I know needs to be done, takes a long time, leads to my biggest WHY, and shoulda been done yesterday, or the day before, or even before that. What happened to me? I left it until later in the day because, just pick an answer: it takes too long, I don’t know how to do part [fill in the blank], tomorrow will be better because [fill in the blank]. Whatever the excuse is, it blocks my action, my change, my future. I catch myself doing the same thing at work. I arrive and do small easy things and waste time with email and simple tasks. I do anything I can to put off or delay that big thing that I don’t want to do. Then gee, I guess I don’t have time to finish it, so I won’t do it today, or the next day. . . again.
The solution: do the biggest, hardest, longest, most important thing first thing in my day, and first thing at the office. Yeah, it might cost a bunch of willpower early in the day but at that point in the day, I have enough willpower to do it.
An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
–Sir Isaac Newton’s 1st law of motion
The problem with mornings is momentum. What has been the same speed and direction of my last 8 hours? Zero and no where = rest. I’ve been sleeping and pretty content just lying there at zero speed and zero direction, full on rest. Ike never knew he was creating laws of psychology. I just wanna keep doing what I’m doing and it feels great rest. This stay in bed momentum or inertia is magnified when I’m a bit under the weather.
I’m quite OCD and logical (just in case you didn’t pick up on that yet) so once I realized this momentum delays and interfered with my starting the day and how simple it is to apply the other half of Ike’s law: apply an unbalanced force – get up and go. I only have to start going and then I’m going to stay “…with the same speed and in the same direction…”
Back up a few paragraphs. What happens when I do the hardest, evilest, worst thing to do on my list first? I have a pretty high speed and direction started. Every other thing on my list of goals and todo’s for the day pales in comparison to this thing I just did. I keep trying to do the biggest things and they are so much easier than the previous thing because they are progressively a bit smaller. This rolling string of accomplishment is what I call goalmentum. Plus, the willpower to start and do each successive task is smaller for two reasons:
- It is a smaller task.
- The goalmentum from the current trend of success.
The willpower to start the first task feeds into the successive goals. This goalmentum effect not only takes place on micro goals and daily tasks but it fuels longer term progressions of achievement: weekly, monthly, quarterly, and longer. Like any other limited resource willpower must be consumed wisely.
Finance Sidebar: When we examine finances and getting out of debt. Some of my debts were so overwhelming that I couldn’t see the result of paying them off. It didn’t seem possible. So with debt, I took my smallest debt and paid as much as I could towards it. More than the minimum payment. When it was paid off, the goalmentum effect began. I took everything I was paying towards the first debt and applied it to the second. Dave Ramsey calls this goalmentum the debt snowball. I took the feeling of success, plus the planned spending and drove through the rest of my debt. . . except the house. Dave recommends retirement investment before paying off the house of 15% plus we have five kids at home. So we praise the Lord to be debt free except for the house.
Back to the theme. With willpower in limited supply, I take you back to setting habits and habit formation. Why do I want good habits? Because they’re FREE. They cost little to no willpower they are automatic behaviors. So what do I do? My first thinking; I come back to it regularly; is I want to change everything. I want to convert everything to a free habit. I set a million goals in thousands of areas. Achieve nothing consistently on the same goal and get a bunch of nothing done.
I need to go back to my biggest WHY. Examine my overflowing list of bad habits. We are all our worst critic. I need to consult my accountability team and find the one thing, that one thing that if done effectively and automatically will give me the largest step towards that new life that I want for me, my family, and my community. Then I take steps to set up W.A.Y. S.M.A.R.T. Goals for today, this week, month, and more to take this one thing and make it into a habit. Not two things, and not five. Kinda like Monty Python’s holy hand grenade only the count is ONE not three.
To summarize, everyone gets the same amount of time. To make your time more effective, keep your eyes on your big WHY. Look for new habits and replacement habits that people you want to be like have, that have made them successful, like you want to be. Set goals in order to create habits. Every choice we make each day consumes some of our limited willpower so remove choice where you can to preserve your willpower for the important things. Use a bit extra willpower now to free it up for more important things later.
Here’s Your Challenge. . .should you decide to accept
- How have you experienced goalmentum in your life?
- How is your experience with willpower similar to mine? How is it different?
- You didn’t tell me last week, What is the first habit you want to change?
- What is your biggest WHY? Your one thing?