A lack of understanding of the fundamental nature of willpower explains why approximately 80% of those that make a New Year’s resolution will admit defeat by February. People make a list of things they are going to do, lose weight, drink less, exercise more, reduce their credit card debt, and stop smoking. Our willpower is severely limited, and every demand for self-restraint draws from a single source. They will look at their list and blame their lack of willpower when they should be blaming their list and their lack of focus. No one has enough willpower for that list. Sometimes a single willpower challenge will feel like one demand too many.
It is easy to blame their failure on a lack of willpower or motivation because if they had an extraordinary amount of either, they could have powered through, but the real culprit was their poor strategy. Anything that is outside of our comfort zone is going to trigger resistance. We want to shrink the commitment so that we only take a tiny step outside our comfort zone – expanding it slightly. Once our Elephant gets comfortable with that, we can encourage him to take additional steps. Our comfort zone will eventually expand. We always want to have enough willpower to keep our habit alive. Shrinking down our commitment ensures we will always be able to do it. These tiny steps aren’t a finish line, they are a starting line. You can always do more when you are motivated to do so, but don’t rely on motivation.
We should look at motivation like the commitment of an unreliable friend; it’s great when he shows up to help, but we shouldn’t count on it. The First Rule of Behavior Change, Shrink the Change, is the most effective way to create a good habit. Shrink the new commitment down so small in the beginning that even on your absolute worst day, you could keep your habit streak alive. We don’t rise to the level of our aspirations; we sink to the level of our standards. Set the bar so low, you cannot fail, but that bar is just a minimum.
You can always do more when you feel motivated to do so, but you never want to do less. You cannot build on a habit until you have established it. We establish habits through repetition. Repetition is the learning language of the subconscious mind. Set the bar too high, and you’ll never develop the habit; moreover, you’ll become discouraged and erode your self-esteem. Set the bar low, build self-confidence, willpower, and motivation. You’ll be much further along in five-months than the inconsistent person with lofty intentions.
Being overly ambitious with your daily commitments is the best way to kill a habit. Our habits must be able to survive the bad days. If our commitment is too large to be accomplished on our bad days when willpower and motivation are almost non-existent, then we won’t form a habit. No one is going to stop you from doing more, I just don’t want you to make the mistake of asking for too much, especially in the beginning. After the habit is firmly established, you can incrementally increase it, but not before. This time period could take anywhere from 28 to 254 days (REF) according to the latest research. You’ll know when you have a habit when it feels like something is wrong when you don’t do it. When it truly feels like your default behavior and not something that requires willpower to do.
Whatever habit you want to develop, this habit tracker can be a powerful tool that improves your consistency. Measurement leads to improvement. Good luck!