In a way, Doing What Matters Most is really about change. Accomplishing a goal is, at its essence, a matter of changing your behavior. You either need to start doing something you're not or stop doing something you are. Either way, it's change. And for most of us, change is hard and scary.
In their best selling book The One Thing, Gary Keller and Jay Papasan spend chapters 6 and 7 on change agents Discipline and Willpower. Somewhat surprisingly these chapters are in "The Lies" section of the book and not "The Truth" section where I expected they would be. That I was surprised sort of made their point.
The lies, in this case, are that successful people are disciplined in all they do. And in order to be ever-so-disciplined they have on-call willpower that they can bring to bear whenever they want.
I've believed these lies for as long as I can remember. I've used them to shape my view of myself. I've expected myself to be disciplined by sheer force of will and I've beaten myself up from time to time when I've fallen short. More alarmingly I've carried similar expectations into my role as a parent.
The truth is we don't need any more discipline than we already have. We just need to direct and manage it a little better. The One Thing p.54
The authors' point around discipline is that success comes from using it like a laser and not a shotgun. Rather than trying to be disciplined in everything we do, we should focus our discipline on doing our Most Important Thing. The idea being that we should all have enough discipline to do one thing. Or at the very least we have a better chance of doing that one thing if we're not squandering our discipline on things that don't matter.
The good news is that once we do something consistently for long enough it stops being part of the hard, scary change. It becomes the easy familiar thing we're used to. And if we keep at it a bit more we'll start to do it without much effort or thought at all. Then it will be a habit - the holy grail for all of us wanting to make changes in our lives and get better at what matters.
So used properly, discipline is really just a bridge to get us from ground zero to habit with a new behavior. According to research cited in the book, it takes 66 days on average for a new behavior to become a habit. Once we get a habit under our belt we can start working on another one.
But don't try to do two at once. One at a time is all we can do. The book is called The One Thing after all :)
Willpower is what we call on in order to be disciplined while we're doing the hard work to build a habit. To resist the Squirrels of distraction, procrastination, fear and doubt. Willpower is usually the biggest stick we bring to that fight.
To use willpower effectively we have to understand it - how it works, where it comes from and why it sometimes fails us.
Keller's and Papasan's take is that willpower is a renewable resource that is depleted when we use it and that can be restored with rest and eating right.
Willpower, they say, is "Like the power bar on your cell phone.", "Like a fast twitch muscle that gets tired and needs rest.", "Like gas in your car. Every time you resist something you use some up."
The key is to understand the need to manage our willpower if we want any to be there when we need it. Put simply, our willpower is weakest when we are tired or hungry and strongest when we're rested and full.
Seems obvious. But even though I feel like I already knew that, I've never thought to use it to plan my days to be more effective, productive and successful against Squirrels.
That's exactly what I'm doing now though. I've rearranged my to do list in Evernote into AM and PM. AM gets the difficult, creative and daunting things like reaching out to people to make new connections, writing and planning. PM gets things that don't require as much brain power or willpower. Things like tweaking my website, banking and social media stuff.
It's early, but it feels right. We'll see if it sticks. Any of this ring true for you?
Don't fight your willpower. Build your days around how it works and let it do its part to build your life. The One Thing p.71
Have a take? Leave a comment. I'm interested.
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