David Blaine has been buried alive for seven days, encased himself in a block of ice for three, endured a 44-day fast and held his breath for 17 minutes. Blaine has willingly experienced physical pain, trauma, and deprivation in amazing displays of self control. He is an endurance artist. He’s unusual.
Few people are endurance artists, but most of us want to be effective. Like Blaine, highly successful people manage themselves through internal motivation – often called willpower.
By comparison, when more than a million people were surveyed about a range of personal strengths, which virtue was identified least often? Although honesty, kindness, humor, creativity, bravery, and modesty are often cited – self control is dead last.
Desire in humans, a perceived need or want, is prevalent. In about half of waking hours people are challenged with a temptation. The most commonly resisted desire is an urge to eat, followed by sleep, and leisure. To cope with desires – people most often look for a distraction, suppression or simply attempt to avoid the lure of an experience or object.On average, people succeed in resisting temptation only about 50% of the time.
As you might guess, poor self-control correlates with all kinds of personal trauma: compulsive spending, domestic violence, crime, chronic anxiety, explosive anger, procrastination, bad nutrition, alcohol and drug abuse. Conversely, managers rated most favorably by their peers and staff also score high in self control. Observers will most often use descriptors like disciplined or focused.
It’s possible to build willpower. Here are some suggestions to develop your resolve:
Do a little more. If you jog three miles daily – add another half mile.
Respect decisions. Make a choice, stick with it. Don’t waffle.
Do things differently. Explore new ways and habits.
Be committed. Don’t “try.” It is shorthand for maybe. Do it.
Start again and again. Each attempt has value, don’t quit.
Surround yourself with support. Ally with others who pursue ambitious, shared goals.
Willpower is all about what you ought to do – not what you want to do.
Budgets Force Choices
After studying thousands of people, scientists say it’s conclusive: everyone has a finite amount of willpower. Our will can weaken…and the same limited energy “bank” is called on for all tasks. So, each of us has to budget. Taking on too many simultaneous demands ensure failure with some. It means priorities are absolutely essential to success.
The demands of managing and leading change are intense. Willpower can support long-haul endurance for the inevitable challenges you face. Grow yours!
-Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com