Relying on discipline or willpower alone will usually fail. To achieve your goals, you need to want it more than any of your competing desires. To build that determination, get really clear about how and why your goals will improve your life.
Using willpower is exhausting
We grow up believing that making positive change is all about acts of discipline and willpower. But using willpower sucks. It means doing something despite the fact that you don’t want to do it. Noble? Maybe, but it’s really draining. And how much of your life do you want to spend feeling drained?
The problem is that willpower is a really scarce resource. Studies have shown that not only is willpower limited, but that people who have depleted their willpower (by following a restrictive diet, for example) are more likely to do things like cheat on their partners or commit crimes.
The bottom line is that saying no to things you want is exhausting. Instead, get focused on the thing you want to say YES to, and treat willpower as your last resort.
Make change by fostering determination
When you’re determined to achieve something, you don’t have to use willpower. You want your goal more than any of the easier alternatives. Your focus is on saying YES to something new and beneficial.
Here’s an example.
6 or 7 years ago, I was going through the worst eczema flare-up of my life. Over the course of a couple of years, it had grown to cover the majority of my right hand, and some of my left. The skin on my fingers was constantly cracked, peeling, blistered, and painful. It was super gross.
I felt like I’d tried everything, but it kept getting worse, and I was desperate to fix it.
One day I heard the host of one of my favorite podcasts mention that he’d been trying the paleo diet, and that it had cured his eczema. (Just to be super clear, I’m not advocating for the paleo diet in this article—this is just an example from my own experience).
I was sold right away, but trying paleo meant saying no to a lot of things I loved—beer, burritos, pastries, and (dairy) cappuccinos were all off the table. But it was an easy transition to make because I was really clear about how I would benefit from getting rid of my eczema.
- I wanted to be able to sleep at night without being woken up by the dry, burning skin on my hands.
- I wanted to be able to bowl with my friends without having to wrap my fingers in band-aids. (I was going through a bowling phase).
- I wanted to be able to play ukulele without pain.
The benefits were really clear and tangible to me, and that translated into determination.
The good news? You don’t have to have a super annoying autoimmune disease to create clarity and determination.
Build determination by finding clarity
You need to get as clear as possible about what your life will be like when you achieve your goal. You have to want that life so much that your competing desires lose all their appeal—they have to become a non-option.
The reason it was so easy for me to find the determination to change my diet was because I was very clear about how my life would improve.
So, how do you get clear? Find clarity by asking yourself these questions.
- What will I be able to do when I’ve achieved my goal that I can’t do now? (Get as detailed as possible and list everything you can think of).
- How will being able to do those things make me feel?
- What will I have to give up or change to achieve my goal? Do you truly want the benefits of your goal more than these things?
The more often you revisit these questions, the more likely you are to maintain your determination.