Willpower is a Myth

Willpower is a myth. I will say it louder for the people in the back – WILLPOWER IS A MYTH. There is no such thing as willpower.

In the August 3rd episode of her podcast “Before Breakfast,” Laura Vanderkam walked through why willpower is over-rated.  She reviews several ways to control your environment so you don’t have to rely on willpower. In today’s post, you can learn how to set yourself up for success by addressing what is in your control in each of the three dimensions of Sustainable Productivity.

Health & Fitness

I know that I should not eat a whole sleeve of Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies. There is no way that 16 cookies of any type are part of a healthy, well balanced diet. Yet, here we are – my “willpower” does not exist once the the package is open. Therefore, I need to set myself up for success and not rely on willpower to resist Thin Mints.

Source: Simple Pin Media

For me what Sustainably Productivity looks like is not buying Thin Mints except for when my nieces call me to place my annual order. I can’t keep them in the house. Laura’s podcast talks about other options for portion size, but those are not sustainable choices for me.

Mental Well-being

I have been trying to establish a morning routine as part of my Mental Well-being. This is not a new struggle – I have talked to you a little bit about this before. This has been particularly challenging because there has been very little continuity in my days this summer. Here is what runs through my head, “I have more free time than usual so I SHOULD be able to keep a consistent morning routine.”

Ugh, “should.” The ugly step-mother to willpower. Hear me when I say this again: There is no such thing as willpower. There are moods, poor planning, wrong choices, or bad timing. None of this is related to your ability to accomplish your goals.

Therefore, I take each day as its own and try again with the morning routine based on that day’s schedule. If it is raining and I cannot swim, I use my Plan B for the exercise part of my morning routine. If I have an interview and I cannot complete the whole routine in 1 block of time, I relax about the scheduling of it and do what I can, when I can.

Physical Environment

Is my house the only place where paper is hard to wrangle? From what I hear in talking to people, I think probably not. We needed a system to manage all the paperwork coming into the house. Again – willpower was not the solution. Would we really postpone starting family dinner so I could sort the junkman that came today? Does it make sense to prioritize bills just because I think I need to prove I have willpower?

Not. Sustainable.

So we set up a system to drop the mail in a cute bin from Target that sits on our kitchen counter. Then I deal with the mail when it works for me, not just when I think I “should.”

How can you create systems to solve problems you have been relying on willpower to address? Is there a nagging issue that you berate yourself for every time you skip it on your list or avoid on your calendar? I’d love to hear what you think about the idea that willpower is a myth.

By |2020-09-04T18:14:39-04:00September 8th, 2020|Sustainable Productivity|0 Comments

3 Reasons to Let Go

As we develop sustainably productive habits, there is a need to flip the coin over to look at what we need to stop doing. To let go of what is not serving us physically, mentally, and environmentally means we make room for what we want to build in our lives. 

Let’s be clear – letting go is hard. But we can do hard things. I am inspired by what Louise Smith has to say about it.

“You can’t reach for anything new if your hands are full of junk.”

Louise Smith

Today’s post will apply this idea to each of the three dimensions of sustainably productivity. 

Physical 

For many years I considered myself an endurance athlete. I raced in dozens of triathlons, half marathons and marathons. I am turtle slow, but they gave me a race bib so I call what I did racing. All the miles eventually caught up with me and running became unsustainable for my body. I had a few orthopedic surgeries. Then the doctor said if I wanted to be able to hike and walk the dog in my 80s I needed to stop running now in my 40s. 

I cried right there in the office. I did not want to let go of running. Which is so ironic considering 

1 – I am not good at it. See Team Turtle comment above.

2 – For years playing basketball, running was punishment.

3 – Running hurt.

But alas, love hurts, right? All the songs tell us that. But Tina Turner reminds us: What’s Love Got to Do With It? 

Lucky for me I was in a place in life where I was making changes towards sustainable productivity. I knew that continuing to run was not something that would be productive for me long term. That surgeon knew exactly what button to push with me.

Yes – I do want to be able to get out in nature in my 80s (and beyond!). If I needed to leave my ego and my running shoes behind to do that, I was open to it. 

Mental

Speaking of Tina Turner, have you ever been in a relationship you knew had run its course. You knew it was not good for you, but you just did not seem to leave it? We may not have an extreme version like Ike in our lives. But I bet we all have Ike-light relationships we are hanging on to because it’s hard to let go. 

Do any of these sound familiar to you:

  • A friend who is always bashing her spouse and encourages stories about frustrations with your partner. 
  • A coworker you go to lunch with regularly who has to “one up” everything you say.
  • A book club where you are the only one who actually reads the book and didn’t just come to drink wine. 

Relationships can weigh heavily on our minds, drag down our spirits, and even negatively impact our physical health. After following 10,000 subjects for 12 years, a study found that compared to subjects in healthy relationships, those in negative relationships were at a greater risk for developing cardiac issues – including fatal heart attacks.

We need to let go of relationships that do not support who we are or who we want to be. This will make space for relationships that are sustainably productive. Maybe that relationship is with yourself. 

What would happen if you ate lunch alone instead of with your needy colleague? You might read, listen to music or podcasts, or just sit and eat with no distractions. What if this is the break you needed to take your afternoons by storm. Could you finally make headway on that project that has been stalled? 

What if you surround yourself with other women who cherish their partner? Sure they still have conflict in their relationships. But they have encouraging stories about how they worked through it because they had a partner who was worth it. 

Without letting go of the relationships that are not working for you, you can’t make way for the ones that will serve you and sustain you. 

Let go

Environmental

Decluttering is always popular and it seems like this quote applies most intuitively here. If you are hanging on to your literal junk, you cannot reach for anything new. 

I have a section of my closet dedicated to my business suits. I no longer wear business suits. If I am honest, I probably no longer fit into said business suits, but am unsure because it’s been 15 pounds 10 years since I tried. 

But alas I cannot let go of these suits. As I have been cleaning out closets in our home, these suits have loomed large in my conscience. They seem to be waving at me (or flipping me the bird) when I go into my closet. I seem to be given them lots of power. 

Instead of just fabric, for me they represent moments in my career where I felt strong and in flow:

  • Job interviews
  • TV segments
  • VIP presentations 
  • Community lectures

I finally took down one suit over the weekend and channeled my inner Marie Kondo. As I took it off the hanger, I thought of all these moments of flow with fondness. I had a moment of Wizard of Oz type of clarity that the suit did not give me strength and flow to deliver on these occasions. It was in me all along. I am still here, the business suit was just a witness to it. And now it is time to allow it to witness for someone else. It is time for me to reach for something new. In order to do that I need to let go of these suits. 

Now to be clear, I was still a little sad and still have about 10 more suits in the closet. But a start was made. That is all we need to do today is start. 

What do you need to break off a little piece and let go of? Is there something in your life that you are holding tight that you might need to release? What if you just loosen the grip?

Habit Change in 3 steps – In a Sustainably Productive Way

As part of their morning routine, Lucille and Bixby have a super fun game that we like to call Staircase Catch. She stands at the top of the stairs and drops her ball, which plunks down each step like a slinky. Bixby catches it at the bottom and tosses it back up to her. She catches it in her mouth, then repeats the process again. For hours if we let her. 

One morning the two of them played a bit, Bixby and I had coffee, then we all started our day as usual. Later that morning, I took a break from work to go downstairs and get a Diet Coke. This is the view. 

tennis ball on staircase

Now, to Lucille, this looks like so much fun. To me, this looks like a trip to the emergency room. The same scene can be interpreted different ways. The decision to leave the ball on the stairs can have significantly different outcomes. 

The same can be said about choices in our own lives. I agonize over decisions so that I can make the best choice because there could be so many different outcomes. I consider the pros and the cons, the return vs. the investment. “Analysis paralysis” is the pithy saying used to describe this. Ironically, often there is not a “best choice” when it comes to the decisions about our habits and routines. As long as we take any action at all – that is what matters. 

Let’s take a look at three ways to get moving on habit change.

Start Small

It is hard to completely revamp habits all in one go. Start small. Instead of setting a goal to go to the gym every day, go once a week. Instead of writing 2,000 words every weekday, if you have more time on the weekend, do your 2,000 words on Saturdays and Sundays. 

Sure it will take you longer to get to your end goal, but this is where we apply the idea of sustainability. We are not talking about fad diets and get rich quick schemes. I want to you to create sustainably productive habits. If you cannot stomach the idea of getting up at 5:00 am to go to yoga every morning – don’t do it! 

But you do need to do something. Make it small. 

Nope – smaller than that. It is hard, I understand. Sometimes it is hard to break it down smaller. How do I eat healthy smaller? If you would like to see a few examples, you can download what small sample changes I have been working on lately. I really do mean SMALL changes. But these are going to be sustainable changes for me.  

Once you decide on what, set your cadence. How many times a week do you want to do it? Great, start with half that amount of days. SMALL CHANGES. You can adjust later. 

Speaking of later – we need to pick a start date and an evaluation date. Not start and end dates – a start date and an evaluation date. 

Set Deadline

Let’s say your goal is to paint 3 days a week after work. You have made the goal smaller and picked 2 days to paint once you get home. Well done, you. Now set an evaluation date for 30 days from now. 

Go ahead – add it to your calendar, “Evaluate painting schedule.”

Then let fly your inner Picasso. For 30 days. No judgement, no changes. Paint for 2 days a week for 30 days – you have 8 opportunities!

After 30 days it is time to ask some questions. Keep this informal and short. Sit down for 5-10 minutes and ask yourself these simple questions

  • Of the 8 times I planned to paint, how many did I complete? 
  • What worked about this plan?
  • What did not work about this plan? 

Don’t expect magic unicorns to shit rainbows. You may not have knocked it out of the park this month. Creating and changing habits – that’s hard work. You will probably need to make adjustments. Maybe during your evaluation, you identified that you only painted for 3 of the potential 8 days. Asking what worked and what didn’t will help modify your plan. 

Do not automatically declare that your goal was wrong or you are a failure. Stay flexible, make modifications based on what you learned. 

Stay Flexible

This is where folks will give up or water down their dream instead of staying flexible to meet the overall intention of what they were trying to do. Remember sustainable productivity is about finding what puts wind in your sails and doing it in a way that fits into your life today. In a way that you can repeat for the foreseeable future. You may need to make some changes in order to meet that sustainable productivity goal. 

Here are some ways to do that:

Start

Once you have identified what tweaks to make in your process, decide what change you want to start. Just one – keep is small and sustainable. Maybe you planned to paint for 1 hour after work 2 days per week. After 30 days you have identified what is not working about this plan is that you spend 25 minutes of your precious 60 minutes setting up your supplies and work space. 

What you may choose to start is to set up in the morning of painting day. Then all you have to do when you come home is paint – which is the whole goal. 

Stop

Perhaps during your evaluation you found that by the time you came home, fed the dog, checked the mail, and changed clothes you lost your painting mojo. What you may choose to stop doing is checking the mail and changing clothes. Stopping those 2 things will streamline the process – feed the dog and paint. You can get an apron or old button down shirt to put over your clothes to protect them if needed. Maybe you change into painting clothes before you even leave the office!

Continue

This is often a hard one for people. We have to admit that maybe we are doing some things right. If you cannot identify one single thing you are doing right and need to continue, I will offer you a gimme. Continue the schedule. Until you hit the goal 100% for 3 cycles (90 days), continue your cadence. In this example that means painting 1 hour a day for 8 days will be the target for cycle 2. Set your next evaluation date for 30 days from now. 

Don’t automatically declare that you are lazy and have no willpower because Netflix lured you to the couch on 5 of your 8 painting days. Maybe you sat down to check the mail and inertia just took over. It happens. You may need to alter your surroundings or order of operations to fit this new lifestyle you have. This Start – Stop – Continue exercise will help you identify and make those alterations.

Now, I hear what some of you are thinking: That’s all well and good if you know what you want to do! I get it. You might be feeling like you are living in black and white and an overall feeling of blah, but don’t know what is causing it. If this is you, I would like to invite you to use the Sustainability Checklist for a few days to help identify what is and is not working for you. 

Let me know how these tools are working for you. Were you able to identify your start, stop and continue? What surprises did you find when you used the Sustainability Checklist for a few days? 

By |2020-06-19T16:54:21-04:00January 6th, 2020|Mental Well-being|0 Comments

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