20 Apr Willpower Part 3: Keeping track, helping it grow
When you have a job to finish, is it better to motivate yourself by looking back at the part you’ve already done, or look ahead at what’s left to do? If you want your willpower to kick in, it’s better to look ahead at what is left to do. What do you usually do to finish something – look back or look ahead? This is a small example of monitoring your behavior, to help you stay on track.
Comparing yourself as you are, with where you want to be, will also help to keep you motivated. If you are trying to be more patient, start noticing and writing down all the times you lose your patience, and instances when you are patient, so that you can see how you are progressing. Trying to exercise more? Create a plan of what you are going to do, and then keep a log of what you actually do.
To increase the effectiveness of your monitoring, be public about what you are trying to accomplish. We are social beings, so telling others makes us more likely to find the willpower we need to stay on track.
Strengthening your willpower
You can also do things to actually strengthen and increase your willpower simply by practicing. The wonderful news is that exercising self-control in one area seems to improve other areas of life. Say, for example, that you concentrate on changing one habitual behavior such as poor posture, or interrupting other people, or swearing.
Choose something that is meaningful to you, that you really want to change, as that will have more impact. As you concentrate on practicing that change every day, you may start to notice other improvements in willpower, such as a clean and tidy house, washed dishes, less alcohol, more fresh and healthy foods, less junk food, chores before pleasure, and so on.
To increase your willpower for accomplishing long-term goals or big tasks, break them into smaller steps. For example, if you have a big assignment or project to complete, or you need to study, identify 1) the various steps and 2) when you are going to do each step.
Mark these on a calendar, and monitor your progress regularly, such as checking off each step as you do it, and planning for the next step.
If you want to have better control over your spending habits, you will need not only a budget, but also a daily log of how much you actually spent, and maybe also what you were thinking or feeling at the time you spent it.
Comparing what you spend with what you have in your budget enables you to monitor your progress, and it could also help you decide which spending habit you want to change next. Each spending habit could become a step that you tackle each week.
Keeping track of your progress, and strengthening your willpower through practice, will help you to achieve the changes – big and small – that you want in your life. Special thanks to Baumeister and Tierney* for their practical examples.
Next time, I’ll share information about how to maintain your willpower and self-discipline year after year.
*Reference: Willpower by R.F. Baumeister and J. Tierney. 2011. The Penguin Press, New York. 291 pp.