Willpower versus Motivation

People blame their shortcomings on a lack of willpower. But do you treat willpower as if it’s a static personality trait?

..Because it’s not. Willpower is simply a measure of two things:
1. your level of motivation for a particular outcome; and
2. your willingness and ability to take a concrete action in furtherance of that outcome

When you see a cheeseburger, you easily conjure the will to eat it. That’s because it’s salient. It makes your brain cells dance, and you suddenly experience a high level of motivation to just stuff it into your mouth.

When you are highly motivated to do things, suddenly it becomes difficult to NOT do them. So really – your willpower problem can actually be seen as a problem of motivation.

And if you know yourself, and you know the things that really interest you – you can increase your willpower by increasing your motivation. Over time, mundane acts (like exercising) will become a source of familiarity and joy as they become habits engrained in your mind.

Here are just a few ways you can increase your motivation, and thus, your willpower:

  1. Temptation Bundling. Research has shown that coupling highly enjoyable acts with less enjoyable acts can increase your motivation to participate in the less enjoyable acts. For more details, check out my post on temptation bundling. And while you’re at it, check out my Serial Challenge for Gym Haters.
  2. Make Exercising Social. Don’t focus on exercising so hard. Instead, focus on making exercise a fun and social event. Take a dance class with a friend or go for walks with coworkers. It’s not exercise, it’s just fun with friends. (But shhh…it’s also exercise.)
  3. Create Small Goals. Maybe you want to lose 50 pounds. Of course it’s doable. But 50 pounds is a lot of weight, and it’s a very demotivating thought when you’re just starting out. But what if you only wanted to lose 4 pounds? Losing 4 pounds is easy. And if you do it over and over again, you’ll eventually get to 50 before you know it. Set small goals to increase your motivation. It works!! See my post about setting small goals here.
  4. Buy one dress that doesn’t fit. When I first started my weight loss journey, I bought an adorable dress that was several sizes too small. I hung it up, and I promised myself that someday soon I would wear that dress. It was bright yellow, so I noticed it every time I opened my closet. When the dress finally fit, it was incredibly rewarding. Say YES to the dress!
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Summer 2015, the day the yellow dress fit! I’ve lost about another 20 since.

What are some ways you keep your motivation high?

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Temptation Bundling

Woman exercising on treadmill in gym

 

In yesterday’s post, I posed a challenge for those who struggle to find gym motivation.

I  love psychology. And I believe that pairing gym visits with a particularly engaging story can help you not only find the motivation you need to show up, but also cause you to associate more positive feelings with the gym in the future.

The challenge is a form of “Temptation Bundling.”

Willpower is Half Motivation

Willpower isn’t just willpower. Really, it’s a combined term for two aspects of a human trait:
1. The strength of a desire; and
2. The willingness and ability to actually perform a concrete action in furtherance of that desire

If you know absolutely nothing about math, but know that you’ll get $500 if you learn Trig by next year, you might learn it.

But if you know absolutely nothing about math, but you know that your first born will be killed if you can’t figure it out in the same time frame, the odds of you learning it are much higher.

It’s an oversimplification to chalk this all up to dopamine, but certainly it plays a role. Motivation is related to attention. And attention is related to things that matter to you. Like your first-born not being thrown into a river.

Stack the Deck in Your Favor 

Things that matter to you can improve your willpower by increasing your attention, and therefore your motivation.

So make a conscious effort to make mundane things matter more. This is how you stack the deck in your favor.

It will help you in two different ways:

[1] Activation Energy. Increased attention provides the initial interest and activation energy you need to get started and get over initial hurdles.

[2] Habit Formation  Performing any activity will begin your brain on the journey of creating a habit. Doing it in an interested state will likely make it stick better.  As they say, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” Soon enough, you’ll enjoy a semi-automatic behavior, the familiarity of which will bring you comfort and joy.  You just need a little help getting there.

Use Temptation Bundling

Temptation bundling is just one hack of many that you can use to increase your motivation, and thus, your willpower. Bundle an enjoyable activity with a less enjoyable one, and keep the association strict. 

In order to do this effectively, you’ll have to know yourself.

For example, I love audiobooks, and I don’t have much of an attention span for television. I like certain shows, but I can’t focus on a show while exercising. You might experience the exact opposite.

If you LOVE a particular show, then ONLY watch that show at the gym. I personally do the same with audiobooks.

More Examples of Temptation Bundling for Fitness

  1. Make a pact with a friend you don’t see often, but whose company you thoroughly enjoy.  For the next three months, you are only going to hang out at the gym. This is you time.
  2. Listen to your favorite audiobook only while exercising.
  3. Watch your favorite TV show only while exercising.
  4. Have a small piece of chocolate every time you exercise! And at no other time.
  5. Splurge on cute gym clothes, so that whenever you are at the gym you feel like the hottest ticket
  6. If you are motivated by physical challenges, then spend the first 2 minutes of your workout racing yourself on the treadmill and try to beat your old times.

Many people do these things without even realizing. Often, these are the people who experience the most success.

If you don’t do these things naturally, then it’s very important to be concrete in your temptation bundling rule and action.

The only person you are trying to help here is yourself, and a concrete behavior is what you need to get the habit formation going.

If you have any other tips and tricks, I’d love to hear. And I’d also love to hear how any of these tips work out for you.

Happy Bundling 🙂

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