Willpower is Overrated

If insanity is measured by “expecting different results” when you “do the same thing over and over again,” I am ready for the psych ward.

photo credit:  Pim Chu/Unsplash

photo credit: Pim Chu/Unsplash

My poor head has calluses from banging it against the same wall for years. I write and create and post blogs and send emails. I launch new programs and collaborate on podcasts and books. This may sound like progress but... I expect a different result than I get.

I tell myself to play the long game but I keep measuring my progress in 30- or 90-day sprints.

Life lasts longer than 90 days.

In real life, despite our best efforts, we gain all the weight back. It makes you wonder why you bother at all. In fact, sprints are worse than doing nothing because each failure takes a chip off your confidence.

In the last year, I am proud to say that I have burrowed my way into a new headspace. I can see the difference between the mental game that I was playing, that was always bound with a beginning and an end, and real life.

What’s the biggest difference?

It’s gotta be fun.

I know this sounds like a tall order. Adulting is supposed to be hard work, right? We are taught to “put away childish things” when we grow up. Peter Pan and all.

But think about it. Why go to all the effort to create a new life that you hate?

If you don’t find some enjoyment in your new behavior or habit, it won’t last. If it won’t last, it won’t serve you.

How can YOU create a headspace for success?

To get out of the sprint/marathon mentality, I stopped playing games that I could win or lose. I learned to view life in real terms, as an “infinite game,” not a “finite game” that has an end date.

Now I see short-term fixes for what they are: traps. Anything that has an expiration date on it doesn’t serve me in the long run. We sabotage ourselves when we buy into the myth that we can WIN at anything that requires ‘powering through’ with more than a few months of effort.

Playing for my full life, it gets easier to recognize how big a waste of time it is to start things I can’t sustain. I don’t begin things I can pull off for a week or a month or a year. I choose to begin doing new things that I can sustain for… ever.

Two of my favorite books, Benjamin Hardy’s ‘Willpower Doesn’t Work’ and Seth Godin’s ‘The Dip,’ helped me adopt this new mindset. Hardy debunks the idea that persistence is a superpower. It’s a muscle that only lasts for a short time. Godin stresses the value of quitting before you start and sticking when the going gets hard.

Make it easier on yourself, not harder. Rather than lifting the world, Hardy suggests ways to turn it to accommodate our needs. For instance, rather than willing yourself not to eat the cookies in the jar, don’t buy cookies for the jar. In fact, throw out the jar. Now you can use your energy to build and break other habits.

Anticipate the post-honeymoon period. Godin describes the natural life cycle of creating a new business. The same cycle applies to any change effort. When you start a project to improve your life, the honeymoon period and the discovery phases are very exciting.

Then you enter the middle part, the Dip, which can feel like it lasts forever. This is the phase before your plan shows results. There is no way to predict how long your Dip will last, like crossing an endless desert. In the worst part of this phase, you want to quit a million times a day.

The trick is NOT to quit. The secret to not quitting is knowing:

  1. that you are doing this for the right reasons

  2. that you already researched and chose which Dip you should be traversing

If you know you are
in the right place,
for the right reasons,
you shouldn’t quit.

Based on the extensive research you do before you launch your journey, you should only (and always) quit before you get into the wrong Dip.

Ah, but there’s the trick. Where can you do this “extensive research” before you get into the wrong Dip? In my experience, you need a space and you need the right kind of support.

What do I mean by ‘a space’?

A physical space is where people can come together. An inclusive space is where people can find respect and be seen. A mentoring space is where people can support each other and share their valued experiences.

photo credit:  Markus Spiske/Unsplash

In May, I am creating this kind of space for women.

This is a mentoring group:

  • for the woman who takes care of others (kids, spouse, parents, pets) sometimes better than she takes care of herself.

  • for the woman who is the primary caregiver in her family.

  • for the woman who carries the burden of the invisible labor, managing businesses without names like “the house.”

  • for the woman who finds herself the primary breadwinner for her family.

  • for the woman who wants to support other women.

These women deserve a rest stop on the highway of life, a place to pull over, refuel, and get what they need to resume their journey.

I wish there were millions of these rest-and-replenishment stops for the everyday superheroes who manage all the things. every. damn. day:

  • the working mom who brings her child to my practice

  • my co-collaborators like Nicole, balancing it all and producing fantastic content at the same time

  • my wife Betsy, the hardest working person I know

  • my colleagues working in the schools

  • fellow professionals who pursue change through the altMBA, SpeakUp, and IIRP

Do you need space like this?

Join a group of femmes (a more inclusive term to invite all female-identifying people) who want to honor their hard-fought successes ...and failures... by supporting others.

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Robert Zeitlin