Resolution Series Pt. 2: Habits > Willpower

Welcome to Part 2 of our Resolution Series! In our previous installment, we reviewed the unfortunately high failure rate of most New Year’s Resolutions and determined a process for establishing worthwhile and realistic goals. We closed with a talk on taking small, actionable steps towards successful goal achievement and avoiding the concept of “friction”. We’re back to explain how the process of forming automated habits is key to your goal completion and how you can take control of friction.

Short Range Willpower

Much of modern self-help centers around Stoic philosophy. Indeed, there are lessons to learn from stoicism about coping with loss, disappointment, restraint, and the resiliency of willpower. Achieving any worthwhile goal requires the demonstration of tremendous willpower. But willpower only gets your foot in the door, and reliance on willpower alone is exactly why we see resolution failure rates as high as 80% by the month of February.

Willpower simply costs too much energy. It is a finite resource that must continually be replenished to rely on it’s sheer force alone. The magnitude of your “why” and ramifications of failure must be tremendous to achieve your resolution on willpower alone. And how often can learning Spanish have ramifications that great?

Consider the professional athlete, whose gameday accomplishments overshadow the hours of work outside the field of play. What often goes unseen: the required 8-9 hours of sleep every night; the 2-3 a day training sessions; the immense effort put into recovery modalities and perfecting nutrition. Even when a support system exists to help accomplish these tasks, the sheer pace and unrelenting rigor of a high-performing professional’s schedule is too great for willpower alone to complete. Why does the athlete train twice a day without failure? Because they don’t think about it; it is simply what they do. They don’t consider what to an outsider appears to be an incredible juggling act of varied tasks. These are automated processes that have been developed over the course of many years, with one building upon another. Willpower is for prime time. Habits are for all-time.

Habits and Friction

Successful resolutions are made on the back bone of habit formation. You execute habits without thought or the necessary reinforcement of willpower everyday. When you wake, when you report for work, the times you eat, the times you visit the bathroom, the decisions you make when driving are relatively automated, despite what we might like to believe about free will. These are habits and forming them is highly individual. Popular campaigns like to confine habits into easy numbers, like 3 Weeks, Two Months, or 90 Days. The truth is habit forming appears to be highly individual and may take as little as 18 days to most of a year <1>. The timeline is less important than the pathway to forming these new habits or erasing old ones is relatively universal.

The concept of friction plays a large role in habit formation. How convenient something is to do, requiring little forceful willpower or thought, is paramount to habit forming. Consider the smartphone. It’s likely that you’re using one right now to read this and even more likely so that you were referred to it through one of the many convenient social media applications that exist to make phone usage a daily habit in your life. The rate of smartphone adoption in the US is one of the fastest in history: faster than the telephone, faster than the computer, faster than the television, or the internet <2>. Everyday, a new application exists providing a solution to a problem encumbered with friction. Food delivery to your doorstep; two-day shipping for almost any consumer product; instant access to the collected knowledge of the human species is all at your fingertips.

Habits live and die by the friction they face. If your Netflix app required you to login, with a complex password and an additional two-factor authentication code via email, every time you wanted to watch an episode of “The Office”, how many episodes would you watch? A survey on gym attendance found that members are significantly less likely to go if their gym is more than 4 miles away <3>.

Taking Control

Fortunately, we possess the ability to manipulate the amount of friction we face by making those small, actionable decisions that will help our resolutions come true. Getting started will require a concerted willpower and self-discipline. After that first step, friction can take over.

If you’re short on time and you know you’re unlikely to make it to a gym with a long commute, you’re not alone. Pick a gym or fitness program that is closer to you. You don’t have to stay there forever and maybe there is one further away that you’d prefer eventually. Start by showing up. Reducing the friction associated with gym attendance will significantly increase the likelihood of your attendance. When you’ve made going to the gym a habit of your routine, adding a slightly longer commute won’t be as difficult.

We can even develop friction in places to break habits that are sabotaging our goals. If you have a weightloss goal, but struggle with sweets late at night, increase the friction between you and those sweets. Don’t buy that ice cream at all. That will definitely take a moment of restraint in the frozen aisle of the grocery store that your own personal willpower must confront. But keeping it inconvenient, beyond the reach of yourself when boredom takes hold and you’ve exhausted your willpower from a long, productive day, can break that habit of over-indulgence.

Designing intentional friction towards negative behavior and removing it for positive habit forming may be more complicated than keeping things off the grocery list. Each initial step will fall upon you to have sufficient willpower for those changes. But finding ways to build these habits will ensure consistent, long term adherence towards meeting your resolutions.

The Wellness Challenge

Need an extra reason to stick with those health oriented goals? We’ve got your back. Join the Xendurance Wellness Challenge and get rewarded for building a better you. Your self is the best investment you can make and the most worthwhile resolution. Pursue those fitness goals you’ve always dreamed about. Look and feel the best in your life. And win a FREE resort vacation to Cancun while doing it. Check out our rules and start your submission to show us how much better you’ve improved your health and wellness by May 31st!

Look out for our next part of the Resolution Series on Building Positivity and Support Systems.

References

  1. Lally, P., Jaarsveld, C. H. M. V., Potts, H. W. W., & Wardle, J. (2009). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40(6), 998–1009. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.674

  2. DeGusta, M. (2013, December 30). Are Smart Phones Spreading Faster than Any Technology in Human History? Retrieved January 6, 2020, from https://www.technologyreview.com/s/427787/are-smart-phones-spreading-faster-than-any-technology-in-human-history/.

  3. Bachman, R. (2017, March 21). How Close Do You Need to Be to Your Gym? The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-close-do-you-need-to-be-to-your-gym-1490111186


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