Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Willpower or Won't-power: Your Choice

At the age of 17 I asked my parents for a guitar. “No” they replied. “We bought you a piano (when I was 10) and you quit. You want to play guitar, you earn the money, buy the guitar and pay for the lessons.” I did earn the money, bought the guitar, taught myself how to play and had years of enjoyment. (I still play occasionally) But that “no” taught me more than just how to be stubborn. It taught me that if I want something I have to do the work to get it.

We live in a society that eschews delayed gratification. Everything is instant; instant food, cash, entertainment, etc. We get upset when the download speed of our computer or smart phone is not fast enough. Sadly this instant gratification has much to do with lack of success and achievement.
“Willpower is a muscle,” states psychologist Roy Baumeister in his latest book, Willpower. It gets depleted as we move through the day. The more we need to use it, it gradually weakens. Yet, it is willpower precisely that helps us complete assignments, run 10Ks, build houses, tend gardens, and do whatever else we want to accomplish in life. The challenge is that we live in a society and time where willpower is admired from a distance, but is not a constant in many of our lives. The good news from Baumeister is that when we use willpower over and over, we can strengthen it. The better news is that anywhere we practice willpower (e.g., making the bed every morning) it increases willpower in other areas.

Why does this matter to personal greatness? When I facilitate workshops on personal greatness what keeps most people from accomplishing their goals is that they aren’t willing to put in the work necessary to get things done. Though I know personally how daunting some goals seem, I’ve learned that giving up easily, or not starting at all is the surest way to guarantee that something won’t happen; that’s won’t-power. But making a choice to try, even if you might fail, provides a sense of accomplishment much deeper than just sitting and dreaming.

So, what happens when you hear “no” from someone, or even yourself? Do you become more determined to succeed, or just give up? Even trying a little to achieve what you want increases your willpower and it brings you one step closer to achieving what you hope to achieve.