The Keystone Habit for Achievment
If only I had enough willpower!
If only I had enough willpower, by now I’d be a ballet dancer, an interpreter for Japanese, an archeologist, a horticulturist, a leading human rights activist, a biochemist, and everything else in between … and preferably all at the same time. And, perhaps, an Olympic champion too?
“If only I had enough willpower” is the outcry of ultimate defeat. At least this is how it feels after having given up, for the umpteenth time, “the best idea imaginable” to pursue. We feel defeated, utterly weak, and desperate whenever we drop one more project we thought would satisfy our hunger for a meaningful endeavor. Giving up is especially painful when we are advanced enough to derive a growing sense of accomplishment from our field of pursuit.
We feel weak of will. Without willpower, however, no lasting success is possible. Indeed, “Willpower is the single-most important keystone habit for individual success.” (Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit )
If only I had enough willpower not to give up kayaking after a few seasons, I could have become an elite athlete; I had the physique for long-distance races and also a great affinity for water. The lake with the boathouse was in walking distance from my home, and neither the use of race boats nor the training sessions cost me a cent.
I could have become any of the above BUT for a myriad of competing interests that prevented me from focusing all my energy – all my willpower – on one goal.
I could have become this or that BUT for the lack of a strong motivation for single-mindedly pursuing one of these goals. In other words, until I knew with absolute certainty what I wanted to do, I couldn’t summon the willpower to take the necessary steps toward its attainment.
Not until you know what you want to do will you be able to generate enough willpower to continuously improve in your chosen field.
Willpower. Everyone speaks about it, feels the need for it, wants to strengthen it, but often doesn’t understand what it is. So …
What the Heck is Willpower?
- It is a limited form of mental energy that is used up fairly quickly as you exert self-control.
- It must be nurtured by a steady supply of glucose in the bloodstream.
- It is simple, yet not easy to develope, and often no fun.
- It needs a strong motivation over a long period of time: You must know what you want. If you are uncertain and vague about your goals, sustaining willpower over the long term is impossible; you’ll fall into the Willpower Trap of “if only I had enough willpower, I would/could ….”
- It can be learned, like all habits. (See my previous blog posts on building new habits.) The habit loop applies to willpower as well.
Because willpower is a finite energy, not even elite performers can sustain practice sessions for more than maximum five hours a day, “and this is frequently accomplished in sessions lasting no more than an hour to ninety minutes.” (Geoff Colvin)** “Burst” of willpower, limited in duration and repeated over a period of time with adequate rest in between, is one of the secrets of every great accomplishment.
Keep in mind that with willpower, like with any other habit, continual deliberate practice is the key. It takes time and effort. However, “don’t be concerned about being slow in your progress. Be concerned when you come to a halt.” (Chinese proverb)
“Life is so short we must move very slowly” (Thai saying)***
© 2014 Katalin Halom
*Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit: Why We do What We Do and How to Change
***Asian Words of Wisdom, edited by Steven Howard