Forget about willpower. Stop worrying and wishing you had more of it.
Focus on habit instead.
We think willpower is a kind of mental money, a powerful yet limited resource that can be spent to aide us in starting and finishing difficult tasks. Tasks like a high intensity workout, an uncharted research project, a tough conversation with a work colleague.
I believe anything that can be done through sheer willpower, can be done more consistently and reliably through the formation of the right habits.
If willpower is like building a new house through sweat and tears and aches, then habit is like hiring and overseeing a contractor who specializes in home construction.
Habit, in other words, takes our same machinery – mental and physical – and applies it with less energy and more efficiency to achieve the same outcome. Or better.
But that’s not to say habit is a panacea. It doesn’t cure-all. To build the right routines, you need time and patience.
Willpower, on the other hand, offers immediate gratification. Spend some willpower and you can – right now – finish reading that tough academic paper. But what about tomorrow? And the next day?
That’s why habit beats willpower. Develop the right habit, and you can digest academic papers day after day, week after week. Over time, you might even come to enjoy them :)
Habit simplifies the movements required to achieve a given result, makes them more accurate and diminishes fatigue. – William James
Let’s look at former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink [Wikipedia]. He’s the current rage in early adopter circles.
We think Jocko is gritty as hell. We believe he has a giant vault of willpower. That he can accomplish whatever he sets his mind to, never wimps on any challenge.
I totally agree.
But instead of wishing you had Jocko’s willpower and grit and discipline, you should want his HABITS.
Put simply, Jocko has incredible habits. For decades, he built habits of hard work, consistency, and order. Each repetition and routine. Every trial. They were small rocks that steadily accumulated into a mountain of self-control. That’s the willpower we think we see today. What it really is, however, is a habit driven life.
Young Jocko probably didn’t start like this. But day by day, experience by experience, he forged those habits. And they are what makes him capable of the accomplishments we find so awesomely gritty: his decades of elite US military service, the black-belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, his leadership qualities and communication style.
When you’re faced with a challenge, stop wanting more willpower. Instead, focus on the task before you. Ask yourself, What’s the action that’s required of me? How do I break that action into small chunks? Then how can I turn those chunks into habit that can be repeated over and over?
We’ll cover how to build habits in future chapters. For now, just remember:
Willpower is vague. Habit is specific.
Willpower is art, and habit is a science.
Habit beats willpower, every time.
*This is a selection from a book I’m writing on how to build habits and lead a habit driven life.