Neuroscientists and psychologists have agreed that there are many ways that we can increase our willpower. Psychologist and author Roy F. Baumeister asserts that willpower is like a muscle, which can be improved through specific exercises.
However, research also has made it clear that our willpower is limited. Making decisions and taking action requires mental effort, which neuroscientists explain, is the same to physical effort. So, continually making important decisions often results in ‘Decision Fatigue’.
Preserving Presidential Willpower
Preserving his decision-making powers is the reason President Obama wears the same suit every day. The President told Vanity Fair
“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” [Obama] said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
Defeated by the Dimension of Distraction
Most people attain the experience of desiring to make progress on an important project but finish getting stuck in the dimension of distraction, being drowned by many tasks, or suffering from decision fatigue.
This means that an effective strategy for achieving your goals and increasing your productivity cannot rely on willpower alone.
If-Then to the Rescue
The “If-Then” technique is a highly effective technique for getting things done while preserving willpower. This powerful technique is supported by over a hundred studies, including time management, diet, and negotiation.
I have found “If-Then” a particularly useful tool for clients with never ending demands on their time in a position of great responsibility, to individuals who believe they lack sufficient willpower to make progress in key areas of their lives.
The focus of “If-Then” is based on process rather than outcome. In other words, it’s based on the “when” and “how”. At its simplest, the technique can be described as
If X then Y
In practice this might mean:
If it is 6am then I workout; or
If my phone rings more than 3 times between 10-1 then I will divert it to voicemail.
If I am on a long journey then I will catch up on my personal development reading.
“If Then” can be applied to any goal and almost any situation. The power of the technique lies in not relying on willpower or choice. Although you may not have thought about it in this way, you are probably already using “If-Then” on a daily basis. Most people wake up in the morning and brush their teeth without considering it an exercise of willpower.
Must vs. Should
When we view the specified “If-Then” as a rule, something we must do, rather than something we ought or should do, we are far more likely to follow through. Our brains are hardwired to operate more effectively in this way.
To carry out “If-Then,” create a daily plan of your most important tasks, being careful to specify the action and the circumstances in which you must take that action. If you practice this technique consistently for a few days, you will then find yourself finally making progress on those important goals that were before neglected.
Image credit: CC by Jamie McCaffrey