[This post is part of a series on willpower and how to understand and use it. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
How to use willpower summarizes the previous posts.
Use willpower either for brief, self-contained projects that you’ll finish before running out of mental energy to sustain it or when it will lead to rewarding emotions that will sustain using it.
You already know how to use willpower for brief projects.
For longer projects, willpower works best to create rewarding emotions that motivate you to complete your goal. Willpower doesn’t work well to complete the project. If you want to get in shape, for example, willpower alone won’t get you there.
Once I start working out, I enjoy finishing, so willpower works great for me just to start exercising. Then the emotion of enjoyment takes over. If you have a pie in front of you you don’t want to eat, use willpower to move to another room. Then you’ll forget the pie and won’t need willpower.
You can count on willpower to find activities you love that involve exercise, to find foods you love that are healthier than what got you out of shape, to find people who share your exercise and diet habits, and so on.
The big picture
When your environments, communities, beliefs, and behaviors are consistent, your emotional system creates rewarding emotions that will motivate you. Willpower works best when you use it to create environments, communities, beliefs, and behaviors that create the emotions you want. Then you don’t have to work at being in shape — you just do things you love and being in shape is a side effect.
Another side effect is that you end up living consistently with your values.
How to use it
If you feel an emotion you don’t like, for example, think of what emotions you’d prefer. Then use willpower to create environments, communities, beliefs, and behaviors to create the emotions you prefer. It’s that easy. Just don’t rely on willpower for goals that will take longer than your willpower will last.
Be aware that if you don’t start feeling rewarding emotions, reexamining your goals may be worth it so you don’t reinforce the you’re trying to overcome.
So use willpower like a starter motor that starts the enduring motor of your emotions by creating the environments, beliefs, and behaviors that create the rewarding emotions you want.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees