We all face those moments when we wish our willpower were stronger than it proved to be. But like most things in life, success can be rooted in the approach. That begs the question, is your approach working? I’m talking about your approach to just about anything in life . . . your career, your happiness, your home life, or even your diet.
Psychological scientist and blogger, Heidi Grant Halvorson, PhD, writes The Science of Success and helps us understand the natural wiring of our mind and how it affects our choices and willpower.
I hate exercising. Every January of my adult life I've vowed to make it a part of my routine, and every year I've come up with wonderful excuses for avoiding the self-torture. Except last year: I've been exercising three times a week since 2010 began, and I've never felt better.
What finally worked for me? A simple plan. I mean "if-then planning," a technique that is uniquely useful when it comes to resisting temptation and building good habits.
Imagine your New Year's resolution is to lose weight. Most people would make a plan like this: "Eat less, exercise more."
For starters, it's not nearly specific enough. How much less will you eat, and of what? How will you exercise, and how often? The if-then version of this plan spells out exactly what you will do in the critical situation.
If X happens, then I will do Y.
X can be a time and place, like Monday at 9 a.m., or it can be an event, like the arrival of the dessert menu at a restaurant. Y is the specific action you will take whenever X occurs.
So Step 1, "Eat less," becomes something like "When the dessert menu comes, I will ignore it and order coffee." Step 2, "Work out more," turns into "I will work out for an hour at the gym on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays before work."
Amazingly, you are two to three times more likely to succeed if you use an if-then plan than if you don't.
Studies have shown that participants using an if-then solution as Heidi suggests are 91% more likely to reach their goals compared to the 39% who relied only on their willpower. The reason this solution works is because it actually speaks the language of your brain! Humans are build to encode “if x, then y” terms and deciding the relations to events or challenges ahead of time links the cue (if) and the behavior that you want to follow (then).
This makes if-then solutions far less taxing on the memory and prompt natural behavior without conscious effort. Give your willpower a break and build the neural pathways in your brain that make following through a breeze! You’re one step closer to becoming a success!
What things challenge your willpower most? How can you change that to an if-then solution and prepare yourself when faced with the situation again?