When Willpower Isn't Enough
It was all going so well — my commitment to run at least ten miles every week lasted four weeks. Then, life happened. I could write out each reason why I didn’t, couldn’t, meet my quota last week, but it’d only be to make myself feel better. The honest truth is, I broke my promise to myself; my willpower wasn’t enough.
But every setback has the potential to be a learning opportunity. In the big picture, this minor derailment is really just a small bump in the road. What could I have done differently or better? I’ve reflected on some thoughts that I want to share with you.
More Structure Will Set You Free
I was listening to On Being last week, one of my favorite podcasts. The host, Krista Tippett was interviewing Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, about the role of religion in modern society. The nugget that really stuck with me from their conversation was this concept of having and performing a regular and sacred practice.
Whether it’s Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or every day, the construct of religion offers people a structure for life— like a handbook of guiding principles. Regardless of what it is you actually believe, there’s still tremendous value to be discovered in keeping up some sort of sacred routines.
Changing scenery for a moment, think about the first time you ever went bowling. When people first learn how to bowl, they usually need the assistance of bumpers. Otherwise, every other bowl would be a gutter ball and the game wouldn't be much fun. Eventually, as your aim gets more accurate, you'll start relying less and less on the bumpers, until eventually you can just knock the pins down every time.
While life isn't exactly a perfect analogy for bowling, the purpose of this comparison is that creating and setting some boundaries can actually be a very helpful and surprisingly liberating process. It provides you with the opportunity to improve your accuracy, focus your attention on what’s important, and ultimately become a better version of yourself.
The Brutal Truth
Figuring out which boundaries to set for yourself is another challenge. This requires that you be super honest with yourself. In order to do this, you almost have to take a judgement-free inventory of your weaknesses. In my case with my running, my realization was that I needed to plan my schedule better, so life doesn’t “get in the way” like it did last week.
Check out this great read on prioritization. In the article, Facebook Product Design Director, Geoff Teehan writes about his recent move from Toronto Canada, to San Francisco, while being a young father and wrestling with balancing his new job with his personal life. His solution and suggestion to his readers is to “ruthlessly prioritize”. Why does prioritization work so well? Prioritizing forces you to make decisions, which means adding structure and boundaries back into your life. With every choice, the range of possibilities shrinks, making each subsequent choice easier.
It’s alright if your willpower isn’t always enough, hardly anyone's is. What's important is that you know your willpower isn’t enough. To supplement a depleting will, consider adding more structure and support into your life as bumper guides towards your goals. Try not to avoid your weaknesses, or compare yourself to others; just be honest. Nobody’s perfect, and you’re only fooling yourself if you think that you can fool everyone else. The world doesn’t need your perfection, it needs your authenticity.