I bet you’re ready to kick a bad habit or two…perhaps add a healthy one for good measure.
‘Tis the season after all.
As the new year officially gets underway many look ahead with a promise, a vow to make their lives better.
Perhaps you’ve committed to manage your time better, to focus on the projects that matter, to arrive at meetings five minutes earlier instead of six minutes late.
Perhaps you’ve decided to hit the gym more, to quit smoking, to hold the credit card at bay.
You may be thinking the hard part is done, that now that you’ve made the decision the only thing standing between you and a better year is to just…do it.
I’m here to tell you that your decision alone might not be enough…that your sheer will, your desire to make this change won’t necessarily make it so.
You may need to force it.
Let me give you a simple example.
A few years ago I decided to eat less Wheat Thins.
For me, the Wheat Thin is a crispy little wonder, an experience of nutty, crunchy goodness. I loved the Wheat Thin so much I’d just reach into that box again and again. And again.
And then I’d finish the box. And I’d go out and buy some more.
Eventually I noticed all of that salty goodness had let to a bit of salty bloat, and so I decided to cut down. I decided to eat just a few each day, then stop.
I’m an adult, after all, I reasoned. I should be able to do this. It’s just a silly cracker.
And then…I failed.
I’d have a few and put the box away, then visit the pantry again a few minutes later. I would think about the box whenever I got snacky.
It began to take up space in my head – Should I? Shouldn’t I? – ridiculously taking attention away from my work, projects, life.
And then I realized the truth.
The mere decision to eat less of them wasn’t enough. Nor was my willpower. The temptation was just too great.
And so I forced it. I changed my environment. I threw the box away.
But I didn’t just put it in my kitchen garbage. I crumpled the bag, then the box before taking the trip out to the dumpster. And I never bought another box again. Problem solved.
This happens to us all the time. We resolve to make a change, then we slip up.
We do the exact thing we vowed not to do, and we kick ourselves. We see ourselves as weak. We feel like we failed.
I suggest that there are times – particularly when it comes to your favorite bad habits, your most beloved guilty pleasures – when your decision alone simply cannot get you there. When your willpower just isn’t enough.
Instead, you need to force it. You need to change your environment.
You need to make the thing you want to quit impossible…or at least significantly difficult or inconvenient.
You need to make the new choice the only choice.
- You know that email distracts you from your projects, and so you need to close the program (not minimize it on your screen), and shut the smartphone off.
- You know that the extra beer at night is making you groggy in the morning, so you need to just not buy it at all.
- You know you’ll want to sleep in instead of work out, so you need to set the alarm clock and move it across the room, right where your gym clothes are waiting (along with a photo that represents what you want – or don’t want – to look like)
Hear me clearly. This is not about weakness.
This is about choosing to make your life better in some way and upping your odds of doing so.
It’s about being realistic about what will tempt you most (which simply makes you human) and finding the best way to make that temptation less possible…perhaps impossible.
I close with another example.
When I wrote my book last year I was nervous.
I was nervous about being blocked. I was nervous about failing to find the words. I was nervous about writing badly.
And so, when I tried to write, I let myself get distracted, focus on other things.
In the end the only answer was to take the possibility of distraction away. I changed my environment.
Each day I went to a coffee shop that had no wireless access. I brought no other work. I could not check emails. I could not surf the internet.
It was the only way I could get it done.
If you’ve committed to add a better habit or two…if you’ve decided to kick an old one, first of all congratulate yourself.
Then, this week, embrace the truth.
Sometimes willpower just won’t get you there. So up your odds of success.
Figure out how to change your environment. Figure out how to force it.
Then do so. And know, a year from now, you’ll get to celebrate your newfound success.
Now, go do good…and do it well.