Change: Willpower Isn't Enough

One of the things I often hear is, “I set my goals and made my plan but I just can’t seem to stick to it.  I have no willpower.”  Sound familiar?  Well, the fact is, willpower might not be the issue at all.  Something else might be at work.  Achieving a goal requires change.  Change implies you doing something different.  But when we decide to do something different, we also need to consider where that change is happening.  When you made your goals, did you consider what’s around you?  What obstacles might be in front of you?  What unseen temptations might be lurking?  The fact is, our environment can influence our progress as much as the action steps we take.  Distractions or temptations in our environment are not always easy to see and can derail even the best laid change plans.  If you’re struggling with meeting your goals, maybe it’s time to take a look at what’s around you. 

Look At What's Around You

If your change plan requires you to be in a certain area, consider what is around you.   Distractions and impediments lurk in the strangest places.   Is your space clean? Is it stocked with the tools you need?   Are there things that prevent you from doing what you need to do?  Clutter can sap our energy and motivation.  Trying to make good choices in a space with clutter or things that you constantly have to navigate around or not having the tools you need means you are more likely to either focus on something in that mess or find an excuse to not work in that space.  The end result is you don’t actively engage in your action step because your space is not conducive.  So, look at the space(s) you will be working in.  Make sure your tools are front and center.  Look for those things that distract and remove them, even if it means simply putting them in a drawer.  Out of sight, out of mind.

Know Your Danger Zones

We all have distractions or temptations that we know are trouble for us.  These are the kinds of things that are in our world and can’t just be removed or shoved in a drawer.  They are those things that we encounter everyday and we KNOW can derail us faster than anything.   Yours might be the TV, the ding of a text message, the sight of your favorite fast food sign, even the dog barking.  Whatever your danger zone is, finding a way to minimize its influence can help you to stay focused.   This might mean scheduling around it (setting your cell phone on silent for a period of time), avoiding it altogether (take a route that doesn’t pass your favorite fast food place) or enlisting the support of others (ask someone to walk the dog).  This one may require some creative planning but avoiding or minimizing your exposure means you are less likely to have to rely on willpower alone and hope you can white-knuckle it through.    

Limit Time-Consuming Activities

Some activities are necessary but can quickly become time wasters.  We all have them.  Think about how often you go to answer a quick email and end up spending hours on the internet.  Schedule a time into your day for things like checking email, returning phone calls, watching TV or whatever those activities are for you that can go from a few minutes to hours before you know it.   And while we are on the topic of scheduling…

Schedule The Important Stuff

We often hear that willpower is what we need to achieve a goal.  The fact is, willpower waxes and wanes.  Change actually requires consistency.  And what we know is that consistency is much more likely to produce results that relying solely on willpower.  Putting your action steps into your schedule is a proven way to increase the chances that you will complete them.  Scheduling makes them a priority and builds in accountability.  For example, if working out is part of your change plan, put your workout into your appointment calendar.  You are much more likely to do it if it is scheduled into your day.  Leave it out and it quickly becomes “out of sight, out of mind.”

Send Out An SOS

If what you’re doing isn’t working, consider getting a second opinion.  Sometimes, we are too close to a situation to seen it objectively.  If you are finding yourself struggling with your plan because of distractions or temptations, ask a trusted friend to take a look.  Sometimes an objective look can uncover time wasters and saboteurs that we didn’t even know were there.  Be willing to consider the feedback and don’t be afraid to change your plan if you need to.  

We are creatures of habit.  We are capable of great change but sometimes success means not only changing our behavior but also change outside of ourselves.  Managing our surroundings is sometimes all we need to take it to the next level.  Don't be afraid to add some environment management to your action plan.  You might be pleasantly surprised by the results. 

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