Thoughts for today: The timing of this book could not be better. I am reading an amazing book, The Power of Habit: Why We DO What We DO in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg…and the timing is beyond perfect.
*I had a hard moment yesterday, and by a hard “moment” I mean for about half the day. The day started well, my REST day Saturday. All was going pretty well, and then a series of things led to feeling discouraged about my progress on the scale. And, I now realize, feeling discouraged is a trigger for me or, as described in the book above, it is an “inflection point”. It is a moment of potential weakness in my progress, it is something that can easily derail me completely. As it also turns out, the moments just after “blowing it” are critical as well.
Funny, I have been reading this book for a few days, bit by bit. Today, as I had my morning coffee, I picked up the book and found myself reading chapter 5, which focuses on willpower. The title of the chapter is “Starbucks and the Habit of Success, When Willpower Becomes an Automatic Habit”. As it so happens, the contents of this particular chapter are EXACTLY what I needed to read today. So timely, it is as if by design.
What I got out of this particular chapter and how it relates to me (and you?):
*The question I have asked myself many times, why do I seem to have great willpower in some moments and none in others? It turns out that there’s a body of research that shows willpower can get “used up” and that moments when your willpower tank is low on gas can leave you more vulnerable to challenges.
It would explain why stress can leave you more susceptible to “off-plan” decisions and weak moments. If you have had a long, bad day which required much willpower and self-control, it leaves you low on the inner strength needed for whatever decision is next. It explains why I can successfully resist the cupcakes at a staff meeting, then go home and binge later when that staff meeting was particularly disheartening (yes that has happened). Or, sometimes, I don’t have the willpower to resist the cupcakes at all.
My take on it is that when the tank has been systematically drained, if you don’t do something to “refill the tank”, you run the risk of failure at the next moment of challenge.
The trick is to figure out what can “refill your tank”, and that is something unique to each person (although you can get ideas from other people and try them out to see what works for you). But, it is more than just that.
You have to REALIZE when things are draining your tank, be able to OBSERVE the levels dropping, and PLAN how and when you can TAKE ACTION to refill the tank BEFORE the levels are too critically low. See, if you wait too late, the willpower needed to DO the thing that will refill the tank isn’t even there. That is when you are primed for disaster.
*Ok, but it seems like my willpower tank has had greater capacity a certain times in my life and somehow less capacity at other times in my life. YES.
It is true that your “willpower tank” can be drained by tasks and that running low can ruin you. It is also true that daily and intentional exercise in stretching the capacity of this tank CAN make it grow to larger, even remarkable, capacities. There’s research that shows intentional exercising of willpower in one critical life area results in overall improvement in many areas. It explains why making one significant change successfully in your life can lead to multiple areas of growth and improvement (which I have personally observed). For me, it is the “boost” I feel from success in one area that makes me feel more empowered for positive decisions in every area.
Unfortunately, the opposite seems just as true for me. The discouragement of “failing” in one area can bleed out and seem to spark a series of bad decisions in many areas.
It also seems my willpower tank has certain weak points that, when struck just right, can blow a damn hole in the side and drain the whole thing almost instantly. Then, not only is the tank empty, but it can’t be refilled either….all the effort to refill just seeps right out that giant gaping hole. Until the hole is somehow repaired, no amount of refill will work.
*The next big thing I got from the book is what the author calls, “inflection points” (p 183). I interpret this as these critical moments that challenge our resolve in special ways because they poke at our weak points. Some weak points are mostly universal (pain, hunger, grief), other weak points come from our personal histories. It turns out that people who KNOW their weak points, ACKNOWLEDGE them, and PLAN for them are more successful at navigating through them. I didn’t realize it, but I was already doing some of that. I just had some weak points I didn’t realize…and hence didn’t plan for.
So, yesterday, when I felt disappointed at my progress and discouraged, it touched on feelings of failure for me, it sparked feelings of desperation and two competing desires: to go dangerously drastic to get more “successful” results or to just give up entirely. And the battle was on.
Based on my new understanding: Improving the plan.
*Formalize my list of go-to strategies for refilling the willpower tank. Include at least one “emergency” strategy that I can use if/when the tank is practically dry – “even if I’m at my lowest, I can still do ___”.
Strategy ideas are: 5 breaths (breathe in energy and light, breath out- release and let go), if sunny – take a few minutes to stop and enjoy the warmth of the sun, my “do just one thing to take one step forward” strategy, reflect on my moments of success and use them for encouragement, take a walk, do some yoga/meditation…to be continued.
I think the 5 breaths can be an emergency strategy – it can be used at any moment even in the middle of class if necessary.
*Practice Checking in on my “tank” and check the levels. Maybe a 0-5 ranking?
5 = tank is full, BRING IT ON! and 0 = I can’t even get myself to do the simplest task…except take those 5 breaths!
What should be the “time to refill” point? 3, I think (yellow – make a plan). 2 becomes critical (orange – do something VERY SOON), 1 = STOP, do something IMMEDIATELY – 5 breaths.
*Identify and PLAN for inflection points.
What challenges my resolve? As it turns out, feeling discouraged is a BIG one that I hadn’t planned for. How do I plan to respond to that feeling?
What else should I plan and prepare for?
I plan to spend some time reflecting on this today (while I go for my run) and I’ll write about it next time.