New Habit Mindset

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What you need to know about willpower

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It was Sunday afternoon and I still hadn’t gotten to my exercise.  

With a current goal of meeting the daily 10,000 step minimum or at least getting 150 minutes weekly of moderate exercise as recommended by the American Heart Association, my time was quickly slipping by.

During the summer I will typically bike outside. However thwarted by rain, I decided to head to the gym.

About 20 minutes into the bike workout, a spin class I was following on youtube, I want to quit big time.  A wave of fatigue suddenly plagued my body and all energy and motivation drained from my psyche.

Yikes, what was happening?  I still had 40 minutes left of my one-hour workout and was only 4 miles into my 13-mile cycling goal.

How was I going to keep motivated and where was my willpower, which I so desperately needed, to overcome my desire to quit?

Willpower as defined the American Psychological Association is the ability to resist short-term temptations ( quitting in my case ) to achieve long-term goals.

Here is the interesting note about willpower – there is a growing amount of research indicating that willpower is a limited resource.  

In other words, if we are tested every hour to exert our willpower and exercise discipline, we will eventually become fatigued, our blood sugar will drop, and our brain will actually start functioning differently making it much more difficult to exercise self-control over the current situation.

Here’s how to capitalize on your willpower and find motivation when the going gets tough whether it’s in your personal, career, fitness, health, or financial life.

7 New Habit Nuggets:

1. Be sure your personal goals are aligned with your interests and values.

Your buy-in is key. Research supports the theory that to maintain willpower and achieve your goal, it is important to have a personal interest in the outcome.  So if you have goals that are mandated by others; spouse, family member, supervisor or friend, consider renegotiating the goal so there is a win-win outcome, one that is better aligned with your interests and values.

2. Do the hardest and most challenging tasks first.

Given our willpower is a limited resource, it makes sense to choose activities or decisions requiring lots of self-control and willpower earlier on in the day.  

(Note-to-self: exercise earlier in the day if it’s a top priority.)

3. Find a support system.

Mental stamina and toughness to stay focused and persevere require not only a personal interest and perceived value in the activity along with the desire to succeed, but also a support system whether it’s peers, a personal coach, a teacher in a class, or someone encouraging you in a video to keep going.  

4.  Break down your goal to even smaller steps or subgoals.

SMART goals  ( specific, measurable, realistic and time-bound) is a great tool to use for both large and small subgoals.   

For instance, in my situation,  I created an immediate subgoal and identified the  ½ mark of my workout as the new target to focus on;  not the full hour.  I then I subdivided that goal to 2 minutes increments. (Sometimes looking at the clock can be dire.  Cast your eyes elsewhere until you feel like the time being measured has elapsed.)

5. Override negativity with positivity using your internal coach.

Positive emotions have long been proven to increase psychological resilience and improve well-being.  As soon as you have the sinking feeling, cancel out the negative self-talk and replace it with your internal cheering squad.  Literally tell yourself, “you can do this!”

6. Develop an incentive for yourself; an external reward

Incentives and external rewards coupled with your own internal motivation ( I want to feel healthy, my goal is to reach $$, etc) can provide more fuel to reach your end game.  

My reward for completing my bike workout was not only intrinsically motivated, but it was tied to watching a movie matinee with my family.  

7. Use the emotion of anger to give you a boost.

Anger and frustration can provide that extra adrenaline rush to move you forward. Use these emotions wisely to help you be productive and move forward.

Martin Luther King Jr, in Freedomways magazine in 1968, noted: “The supreme task [of a leader] is to organize and unite people so that their anger becomes a transforming force.” 

When it comes time to push through those tough moments experiment with new habits and types of behaviors to breakthrough your stuck barrier.  

Suggested Reading

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth



Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink.




Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence by Daniel Goleman

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