What makes us human? What makes you human? Let me give you an example.
You start off your week excited, ready to face the world and everything it could possibly throw at you. Start your day working or going to classes, then come back and read, work out, go outside with friends, engage with your favorite hobbies, improve on your skills, etcetera. Monday goes well, so does Tuesday, but by Wednesday you come back home too tired from work/classes and you don’t finish all those side activities you initially planned beforehand.
You miss one day, then two, and so on. It’s easy to lose track of your life, especially your habits. “I will try again tomorrow” or “I will start over next week!”. A blissful lie you tell yourself, but one we seldom accomplish. In this hyperactive, never stopping the world, you easily get caught in the flow of things, never stopping to ask yourself if you have truly advanced in your objectives.
At least one of us has felt the same. I know I have. Multiple times, in fact. This is what it is to be a human being. We are not relentless machines completing tasks without rest whatsoever. We are made of flesh, we feel, we grow tired and distracted as the day prolongs, but faltering is something we can’t just let happen every day.
The fickle beasts: Willpower & Motivation
Many will argue willpower is the basis of success. Just charging blindly to your goals will get you somewhere, even if you miss once or twice. Theoretically, you could accomplish things this way, but it’d be very inefficient. As a matter of fact, willpower–as we know it–is a myth, unfortunately, popularized years ago. Myth is the idea of overcoming any temptation, thought, or action through mental fortitude.
Recent studies have demonstrated that overcoming addictions (food, video game, pornography, social media) through sheer “willpower” is actually quite ineffective. Fighting off the urge of devouring tons of sugary foods becomes harder when your fridge is filled with them. The temptation might prove too hard to overcome. However, it becomes significantly easier when you substitute unhealthy food in the pantry and fridge with complex carbohydrates, protein, unsaturated fats, vegetables, fruits, etcetera.
Motivation isn’t a myth unlike willpower, but most people look at it the wrong way. They think motivation alone is good enough to get you up off bed early in the morning, to take your body off the couch and sit down, ready to work. Motivation needs to be treated as an igniter, capable of pushing you forwards, but you use that momentum to achieve small, short-term, goals to reward yourself, to keep yourself going and acquiring more of that satisfying feeling that comes with doing the stuff you like.
So, if willpower is a myth and motivation isn’t always present, how do I move forwards? Here are a couple of tips you can use:
1. Implementing small changes
Accomplishing your goals doesn’t necessarily mean overhauling your life in the span of a few days. It starts small, progressive changes. For example, you want to lose weight. Start by buying less sugary and fattening food when you go to the grocery store, buy vegetables, ones easy to implement in your diet.
Afterward, quit sugary drinks. It will be hard at first, but it will help a lot when you have thrown aside empty calories. Go outside for a walk in the park, you don’t have to run or do any type of exercise at first, just walking, taking in the fresh air, and getting sunlight is good enough at the start.
These changes might not look very important or radical at first, but believe me, they will help you lose a lot of weight initially, which will–in turn–make you feel good about yourself. The initial push (motivation) helped you gain sufficient momentum to make initial steps and these yielded positive results, motivating you to go forwards.
2. Be realistic
Start working on what you can handle. Just like in the previous section, you need to work progressively. Doing 4-5 different, unrelated, activities on a daily basis will strain you and burn you out quickly and, before you realize, you will have dropped most of these activities. So, start with what you like the most and make progressive changes to implement them and get back on track.
Secondly, stop thinking about the wasted time, about those things that withhold you from doing what you enjoy. Stop thinking about the last time you failed to keep track of your habits, focus on the now and the little aspects of your life you are capable of handling right now.
The central point to all this is that failing is natural. You will fail at some point and it’s completely acceptable. What isn’t acceptable is to let one or two mistakes ruin the entirety of your progress. Did you fail out of your diet one day? It doesn’t mean you have to overeat on empty calories for the rest of the week. Constant, steady, progress is the basis of success and elevating yourself from where you are right now.
- Bernecker, K., & Job, V. (2015). Beliefs about willpower moderate the effect of previous day demands on next day’s expectations and effective goal striving. Frontiers in psychology, 6, 1496. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01496
- Job, V., Dweck, C. S., & Walton, G. M. (2010). Ego depletion–is it all in your head? implicit theories about willpower affect self-regulation. Psychological science, 21(11), 1686–1693. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797610384745
- Duckworth, A. L., Milkman, K. L., & Laibson, D. (2018). Beyond Willpower: Strategies for Reducing Failures of Self-Control. Psychological science in the public interest : a journal of the American Psychological Society, 19(3), 102–129. https://doi.org/10.1177/1529100618821893