What’s More Useful, Willpower or Habits?

What’s More Useful, Willpower or Habits?

All of us have gone through it…trying to stick to a low-fat 1,000 calorie diet, while going hungry for a week or two, only to find ourselves seeing that fried "something" once again tasting SO GOOD. Or, how about a regular exercise routine? We start out fine, until the days where sleeping in or going to happy hour are like sweet talk to our ears. In "How Long Do People Keep Their New Year's Resolutions?", an article in The Guardian:

"…a majority of (Britons) who made a New Year resolution in the ComRes poll last year actually claimed to have stuck to it".  However, of the "…41% admitting to having broken their latest one…", "63% of respondents admitted to having broken one in the past and the majority of these (66%) admitted to doing so within just one month".

Well, what about getting up to take the kids to school every morning, brushing our teeth or going to work every day? Those may not be our favorite things to do either, but we do them daily without the risk of running out of willpower. How is that possible, when creating other new behaviors are so difficult? That's because they have become habits. They are so ingrained in what we do (and, who we are) that we do them without even considering skipping a day or a week. We don't have to make a conscious decision each day to shower or drive to work. It's just what we do – a habit.

So, you can see there is an inverse relationship between habits and will power. When you first want to build a new habit, it takes a lot of will power to get it done day in and day out. As you start to establish that habit, it becomes easier and easier to do until you don't even have to think about it anymore. In The Today Show article, "Think it'll take 21 days to make your resolution a habit? Try tripling that.", give more detail why this is more of a personal challenge:

"On average, it took people 66 days for a new healthy habit to feel automatic — things like eating a piece of fruit with lunch, or drinking a glass of water after breakfast, found the 2010 UK study, led by University College London research psychologist Pippa Lally. The data was self-reported, which means there's a chance the people weren't totally accurate, or honest. And the time it took for the habit to form varied widely: For some people, the healthy habits felt automatic after just 18 days — for others, it took 254 days."

Tips for Creating Good Habits
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Just being aware of this process helps us stick it out. We know we don't always have to make such a big effort to go work out or skip the donut for breakfast. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. We know eventually it will become habit to go out for a run first thing in the morning and grab some fruit or fix some eggs for breakfast.

Do what you can to help your willpower along until you have made the new behavior a true habit. After that it'll be easy and automatic and you've created a new lifelong habit!

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