Set Yourself Up for Success
Mar, 27, 2014
A few weeks ago, I discussed Defining Your Musts and how if you want your life to be different, there are things that you should be doing everyday to ensure you’re continually moving in the right direction. One of the most important for me was writing for 42 minutes per day. I accomplish this often now, but in the past it was a different story.
Setting Myself Up for Failure
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to terms with the way I work. In the past, I would be hopeful and say something akin to, “I will start writing in my apartment today.” I’ve tried this time and time again (probably a couple of hundred times over the past decade) and 95% of those attempts have been utter failures. Instead of writing, I would go online and waste time reading, or get bored and start cooking or catch up on a show that I really didn’t need to watch. Or I would say I need to fact check something, pick up a book and start reading the whole thing over again. The thing is, in those hundreds of attempts I have been distracted, by nearly anything else. A nap, laundry, shower, books, TV, buying more books on Amazon, amongst hundreds of other excuses. Yet what remained was my ever hopeful vow of “next time will be different.”
Coming to terms with this, I’ve realized that I have to write at Starbucks and not in my apartment. This means, to set myself up for success, I carry my laptop with me about 14 hours per day. If I don’t have my laptop, then I can’t write at Starbucks and I am setting myself up for failure.
The Myth of Our Instant “Better Self”
The question becomes, why has it taken me hundreds of attempts to finally learn this lesson? Often times, it’s because we want to believe in our “better future self.” Researchers have shown that we believe our “future selves” to be superhuman and to possess more time and resources than we do now.
For example, researchers have asked people if they would want to start working out an hour per day now or 6 months from now, and almost everyone picks the 6 months from now timetable (about 90%). They say this because they believe that their future selves will be better organized and have more time. We believe that in the ensuing 6 months, we will clear up our bad habits and have the resources to do the things that we are not fully capable of doing now (like working out 6 days per week). As is often the case, this just doesn’t happen. In general, in 6 months, we will be facing the same issues that we are facing now, if not new ones that present the same issues (not enough time, not enough energy, etc). The problem isn’t just our hope in our 6-month “future self”, but also the much more near “tomorrow version,” that will finally have the willpower to avoid the things that tempt us today.
We want to believe in our “better future self” because it’s our source of inspiration, hope and future achievement. Too often though we trust in that future self too early and too easily. We undermine our current selves by putting too much faith in our “future selves” and in doing so we often set ourselves up for failure and not success.
Set Yourself Up for Success
As stated earlier, for me to stick to my writing 42 minutes per day, I have to carry my laptop with me. Sometimes though, I really, really don’t want to carry my book bag. This usually happens when I have to be up early, I’m tired, running late and know that I will have to run with my book bag on, beating up my body before it’s even had a chance to wake up. If I fail to bring it with me, I generally will end up not writing for the day. Thankfully though, I’ve noticed this pattern and have taught myself to suck it up for that minute or two. In doing so, I set myself up for success, in that aspect, for the rest of the day.
In much the same way, this is what you have to start to do. Instead of trusting in your “future better self” set yourself up for success so that you don’t have to rely on that future version.
3 Ways to Gain Instant Willpower
Instead of relying on hope, put more stock in the environmental changes that will give you “Instant Willpower.” Here are 3 ways that you can ensure that you’re setting yourself up for success when it comes to working out and eating better:
1 – Don’t buy foods that you can’t resist
This is the easiest ways to set yourself up for success, but is usually undermined by our “future selves.” We tell ourselves, “I can have just a little,” and end up eating the whole carton of ice cream. For me, if there’s chocolate peanut ice cream in my house, it’s getting eaten. Period. Most other things I can avoid without a problem, but put that in my freezer and it will be gone by the end of the day. If I’m trying to lose weight, then the only thing for me to really do is to avoid buying the foods that I know I can’t resist. I can do dark chocolate, almond butter, gluten-free bread, but not ice cream.
In much the same way, this is what you should be doing. For you, it might be having wine around, ice cream, your favorite cookies, a specific type of candy. No matter what your “temptation,” by not buying it or having it in your house, can allow you to gain “Instant Willpower,” and ultimately set yourself up for success.
2 – Join a gym that works for you
Ease of use is one of the biggest factors concerning whether or not I will work out. I love working out, but if I have to travel far to do so, I just won’t get there. I’ll say, “I’ll just go tomorrow.”
For example, in the middle of last year, the gym I had been going to for years closed down and I had to find a replacement. Both Sky Club and NYSC were offering similar rates to what I had been paying and I ended up doing a trial month membership at both. In the end, NYSC ended up “outperforming” Sky Club 7 to 1. Why? Because I thought NYSC was better? No. Sky Club was much nicer, but it was such a pain for me to get to that I ended up joining NYSC. This is another example of setting up your environment for success.
Your reasons for joining a gym may be different (the people, certain classes offered, how crowded it is, etc), but knowing the reason is vitally important in helping you stick to working out. If you join a gym that is out of sync with what you need to stick to working out, than you’re setting yourself up for failure. If on the other hand, you can join a gym that gives your more reasons to work out than excuses not to, you are setting yourself up for success.
3 – Make the things you want to do more prominent
Lastly, you want to make the things you want to add to your life, more accessible. If you’re trying to eat more vegetables, instead of putting them in the back of the fridge or down in the drawers, make them front and center. Other examples would be to prep food on the weekend so you can grab it as an easy snack when you come home after a long day. Or, if you plan on working out after work, bring your clothes with you to work (and have a spare at work if you forget them). Any way that you can make the habits you want to keep, easier for yourself, you’re setting yourself up for success.
For example, if I want to drink more water, the easiest thing for me to do would bring my water bottle with me. On days that I forget it, I drink about half the amount of water as I normally do and feel a lot more sluggish throughout the day because of it. (Did you know that if you’re just 2% dehydrated, brain functioning drops significantly?). By simply bringing my water bottle with me, I drink double the amount of water.
Move Towards Your “Future Better Self”
There are literally 100’s of small changes you can make to set yourself up for success instead of having to resist temptation. Finding those ways to create “instant willpower” for the habits you need to hit your goals is key.
Start to overcome the thought that “this time will be different” and simply remove the temptation. In this way you won’t need “more willpower” but instead simply a small nudge to get started. By setting yourself up for success, you help your “better future self” become more of a reality, today.
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