The Myth of Self-Control

Self-control: we all have it – and we all have a wonderful talent for making it go away. Whether it’s food, reality TV, social media, exercise, work, a certain sport or sports team, alcohol, email or texting, must of us have a penchant for overdoing something that would be considered positive, fun or helpful to the point where it’s actually bad for us. Many people try to control their addictions, cravings or guilty pleasures, only to label themselves weak, lacking willpower or possessing no self-control when they fail.

I used to think the same way. Until I discovered Benjamin P. Hardy, author of the forthcoming book The Proximity Effect: Change Your Environment, Change Your Life. Hardy hopes to alter what we think about self-control. He believes willpower is a deeply flawed approach when it comes to enacting real change in our lives. This is because the idea of willpower creates a conflict within us. If we truly want to do something and change, we shouldn’t need this so-called willpower to save us from ourselves because sooner or later this muscle becomes weaks, needs to relax and…BAM…we give in to our vices.

YOU CAN’T ‘WILL’ IT TO HAPPEN

Hardy believes there are two fundamental errors in our goalkeeping if we need to rely on willpower to stay the course.

Either:

  1. We don’t know what we truly want, so we’re in a state of internal conflict
  2. We haven’t committed to our goal and created the appropriate conditions that set our goal up for success

Once we decide what we want, whether that’s to eat healthy, put our phones down or come home earlier, we’ve solved the first part of that equation. We can stop arguing with ourselves and stop thinking about the actual decision altogether. It’s done. It’s been made. Move on…to Step 2. This step involves solidifying your commitment to this goal through an easy-to-follow plan.

We commit to achieve our identified goals by:

  • Investing upfront
  • Making the goal publicly known
  • Setting a timeline (and deadline)
  • Creating several forms of feedback and accountability
  • Altering (or removing) the things in our environment that oppose our commitment

GETTING AT IT

Let’s use a relevant example to see this magic in motion. Say you want to complete more cold calls every month. That’s not specific enough, so we nail that down even further. You want to complete 20 cold calls per month. This starts by creating a spreadsheet and blocking out an hour of time in your schedule (investment) every week (deadline) to complete five calls. You make that “event” public on your calendar so everyone can see that you’re busy making cold calls during that period (publicly known), and you share your spreadsheet (accountability) and its progress (feedback) on a weekly or monthly basis. You also make sure all emails, phone calls, paperwork and other distractions are handled (altering) before this allotted time slot is upon you to create an environment free of distractions and excuses.

These steps set you up for what Hardy calls the “point of no return” – where you must go forward because you are completely invested in achieving your goal. At this point, most doubt, insecurity and procrastination is removed because you’ve created conditions that set yourself up for success. Willpower is simply the act of wanting to want to do something. Goalkeeping is actually settling upon your results, then mapping out the steps to get from Point B to Point A. We all have to start somewhere. This is much easier to do if we can see the Finish Line before we even begin!

Regional Vice President - Southwest

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.