This post is part of my series on Heidi Grant Halvorson’s 9 Things Successful People Do Differently and my experiences with her advice.
Thing #8: Don’t Tempt Fate
Remember how I said that willpower is like a muscle and that you can make it stronger? It’s also like a muscle in another way: It can get tired from overuse. If you know this, you can plan around that limitation and not making achieving your goal harder than it needs to be.
Willpower helps you resist temptation; planning helps you avoid it altogether. Many of us think we have more willpower than we do. As result, we have an unfortunate tendency to assume we’ll be able to handle trouble when it arises, and so put ourselves in situations where it does and we have to. Studies have shown that people who have stopped smoking and who plan to avoid situations where they will be tempted to smoke are less likely to smoke again than people who don’t — and that those people who don’t try to avoid temptation express greater confidence in their willpower than people who do.
If willpower is like a muscle, then something else to avoid is lifting too much at once. Don’t start two high-willpower things simultaneously, like trying to quit smoking and lose weight at the same time. Research shows that taking on two projects like this makes it more likely you will fail at both.
My experiments in limiting work to capacity aren’t just about available time. In the process of determining my limits, I’ve several times run up against cases where I had the time available to do something, but I just couldn’t bring myself to spend the time on it. This is why I try to change only one thing (or sometimes two things) about my routine at a time. Following my existing habits is pretty low-willpower. Developing new ones (or getting back into ones that have been disrupted), though, requires a lot of focus. This ties into the notion of building up willpower (which we talked about in Thing #7) and taking advantage of one of my most trusted techniques: incremental change. Because, as has been pointed out to me repeatedly, slow progress is still progress