Strategic Willpower

Why is that some days we can keep to good habits, such as exercise and eating healthy, while on other days we sit on the couch all night and eat cookies? It seems that our willpower varies from day to day, if not hour to hour. Therefore, how can we avoid falling to temptations and keep to our intentions?

Recently, Darious Foroux wrote an article that explored the idea of strategic willpower and how it can enable us to keep to our intentions. He put the problem very succinctly:

The thing about staying consistent is that life always finds a way to get in the way, no matter what you’re trying to achieve. So we’re better off expecting that things can always go wrong.

Foroux goes on to share studies that appear to demonstrate that our willpower can fade when we are forced to expend it. He then explores how stay true to our intentions even when tired or emotional.

To live a good life, every single one of us needs to know how our willpower works. Do you find it difficult to make decisions late at night? Avoid it!

Finally, he sums up the topic as such:

To simplify, willpower is your ability to follow through on all your little and big goals. If you say you’re going to stop eating junk food and you eat a muffin for breakfast, there’s something wrong.

It’s up to you to figure out what the problem is. Strategic willpower means we’re aware of this concept. We don’t go through life like a mindless robot. We take the time to look at our actions and we do things when we’re at our best.

Read the entire article on Foroux’s web site.

How Managers Can Help Their Team Focus

Have you ever been on a team that lost its focus? You and your teammates may have wasted time wandering down dead ends, getting caught up arguing over trivial items, or had assumed next actions lie incomplete due to a lack of delegation? While there are many contributing factors to such failures, a good manager can make or break a team.

In an increasingly distracted world, one skill that can elevate managers is the ability to focus their team on the priorities. In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, GTD founder David Allen and Justin Hale break down seven ways that managers can help their teams focus on work. Not surprisingly, the ideas are born out the GTD principles. This first suggestion is to inventory tasks and projects.

This is a discipline where common sense is not common practice. If your people don’t have a complete list of their commitments and projects, they can’t realistically prioritize. As a leader, hold people accountable for keeping current to-do lists and give them time each week to do a full weekly review of these commitments so they can stay in control.

Another way managers can help their employees focus is to make meetings meaningful.

Most people’s workdays are monopolized by meetings. Help employees stay focused by allowing them to decline meaningless meetings. To improve meeting efficacy, one manager we coached set a bold precedent. He said, “If someone invites you to a meeting without a clear agenda and reasons why you’re vital to the success of the meeting, you have my permission to decline it.” This manager put the onus back on the meeting creator (which was often himself) to show greater respect for others’ time. It also put employees in control of their days so they could focus on high-priority work.

Read the other five suggestions at the Harvard Business Review website.

Productivity Propaganda?

At first glance it would seem that productivity is a good thing. After all, who doesn’t want to get more done in less time? However, what happens if the push for increased productivity comes at the expense of enjoyment of life? Does it matter if you get more done if that which is being done is of little value?

Digital anthropologist and author Rahaf Harfoush recently explored this topic in a book called Hustle & Float: Reclaim Your Creativity and Thrive in a World Obsessed With Work. In her book she explored workplace burnout and how to avoid it. Bloomberg Businessweek interviewed her during the COVID pandemic to learn more about how to balance work and life in the era or work-from-home.

This isn’t a normal time, so it shouldn’t be treated as normal work-from-home time. The lines between home and work, personal and professional, are blurred with an additional pressure to be productive since the thinking is that we all suddenly have more available time. This isn’t the case, and furthermore, working nonstop simply doesn’t work. We have turned busyness into a coping mechanism. Now, people are applying that to their personal time while sheltering at home, filling it with back-to-back Zoom calls, baking, workouts, and more activity. It’s important to use some of this time to process our emotions and reflect on the discomfort from all this productivity propaganda. Operating as usual will not only negatively affect your work but could compromise your health.

The interview ended with a warning for those who work around the clock.

If you’re a high performer and recovery isn’t an intentional and strategic part of your time and workflow, you’re only damaging your output in the long run.

Read the whole interview online.

Are You Overthinking?

Have you ever slept on decision? Spent weeks debating both sides of a problem? Kept looking for that extra bit of information to sway you one way or the other? If so, you may have been overthinking!

While thoughtful deliberation can be very helpful to make a decision, it is also easy to waste too much time before making a choice. Sometimes this is driven by a lack of confidence, other times it is fear of making a mistake, and simply worrying about how other people may react.

Harvard Business Review writer Melody Wilding looking into the issue and wrote a short article to outline ways to prevent overthinking. The first tip is to avoid seeking perfection.

Perfectionism is one of the biggest blockers to swift, effective decision-making because it operates on faulty all-or-nothing thinking. For example, perfectionism can lead you to believe that if you don’t make the “correct” choice (as if there is only one right option), then you are a failure. Or that you must know everything, anticipate every eventuality, and have a thorough plan in place before making a move. Trying to weigh every possible outcome and consideration is paralyzing.

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What are the ways to avoid this trap? Wilding suggests you ask yourself these questions:

  • Which decision will have the biggest positive impact on my top priorities?
  • Of all the possible people I could please or displease, which one or two people do I least want to disappoint?
  • What is one thing I could do today that would bring me closer to my goal?
  • Based on what I know and the information I have at this moment, what’s the best next step?

Learn four more ways to avoid overthinking by reading the entire article.

After you finish reading, consider this question: What decision are you overthinking?

Once you identify one, pick one of the five tips to help reach a resolution. Then enjoy the clarity that comes from making a final decision.

Steps to Successful Resolutions

It’s that time of year again, the end of the year that is, when people consider making New Year’s Resolutions. The changing of the calendar is often seen as a time to install new habits and behaviors, but the rub is that it rarely works. The web site, Discover Happy Habits breaks down the rather depressing numbers:

According to a 2016 study, of the 41% of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions, by the end of the year only 9% feel they are successful in keeping them.

Part of the problem is that the initial enthusiasm for the resolution fades over time. However, the article also shares many other reasons they fail:

  • In one 2014 study, 35% of participants who failed their New Year’s Resolutions said they had unrealistic goals.
  • 33% of participants who failed didn’t keep track of their progress.
  • 23% forgot about their resolutions.
  • About one in 10 people who failed said they made too many resolutions.
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Should we simply abandon the practice of making resolutions? Probably not. After all, if there is something in your life you want to change, it is important to start at a specific point. However, one cannot rely on willpower or excitement alone to make it work. To help make a change stick, the article shares four success tips.

The first tip is to develop the necessary skills and mindset ahead of time:

Multiple studies have shown that self‐efficacy and readiness to change predicted positive outcomes for those who made New Year’s resolutions.

Having the skills necessary to change was another important factor.

Conversely, social support and behavioral skills were not predictors of a successful outcome.

In another study, men achieved their goal 22% more often when they engaged in goal setting and set their New Year’s resolutions in terms of small and measurable goals such as “lose 1 pound a week” instead of “lose weight”.

Read the other tips and then put them into practice to help you succeed.

Happy 2023!

Being Thankful at Thanksgiving

Of all the holidays celebrated in the United States, Thanksgiving may be the most universal. After all, not everyone enjoys the gift giving bonanza at Christmas. If you are not in love Valentine’s Day is painful and many people sleep through New Year’s Eve. Thanksgiving offers everyone a chance to share a meal with friends and loved ones for one quiet day.

As you gather around the table this week, I suggest you take time to share something that you are thankful for from this past year. Think of it as a preventive measure. After all, it is too easily to fall into the negative, whether around politics or personal preferences, and no one enjoys arguments over mashed potatoes and stuffing. Keeping the discussion focused to the items we are thankful for may offer a great boost of joy at the table and beyond. This is because gratitude has many positive benefits.

According to an article on Healthline, written by Bethany Fulton, gratitude offers many scientifically proven benefits. One of them is improved relationships.

Gratitude not only improves your physical and mental well-being; it may also improve your relationships.

Gratitude plays a key role in forming relationships, as well as in strengthening existing ones.

When it comes to romantic relationships, gratitude can help partners feel more satisfied with each other. One 2010 study showed that partners who demonstrated gratitude toward one another reported increased relationship satisfaction and improved happiness the following day.

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Additionally, being grateful also increases your optimism.

Being an optimistic person can have plenty of health benefits, including healthy aging, according to a 2019 studyTrusted Source. If you’re not naturally optimistic, gratitude practice can help you cultivate an optimistic outlook, as suggested by a 2018 study.

In an older 2003 study, it took just 10 weeks of regular gratitude practice for participants to feel more optimistic and positive about their present lives and the future.

Learn more benefits by reading the whole article. And to everyone celebrating this week, have a very happy Thanksgiving.

The Key to Mastery Is Not What You Expect

Many coaches instruct their clients that the best way to be good at something is to practice it over and over again. It is thought that narrow repetition of a specific move, skill, or technique will lead to mastery. However, it seems there is a better approach that will generate lasting benefit.

In an article on Scott H, Young’s web site, he points to recent research that supports the idea that variability is even more important than straight repetition. This is due to the idea of contextual interference. Young explains:

Contextual interference occurs when you practice the same skill, but vary the situations in which it is called for.

For instance, you could practice your tennis backhand by being served backhand shots repeatedly. Alternatively, your coach could mix things up: serve you backhand shots interspersed with balls that require a forehand shot.

Or imagine preparing for a calculus exam: you could study all the questions that require the chain rule, then all the questions that use the quotient rule. Instead, you might shuffle these questions together so you can’t be sure which technique is needed.

Young goes on to point out why contextual interference improves mastery. One of the reasons is:

Identifying problems correctly and ensuring the correct technique is associated with the problem. A major difficulty in learning isn’t getting knowledge into your head—but getting it out at the right time. Practice that repeats the same technique in narrow situations may result in skills that aren’t accessible when you need them.

Learn more about the advantages of variability in your training by reading the rest of the article.

The Fear That Should Scare You the Most

It is the day before Halloween (All Hallow’s Eve Eve?) and most people’s thoughts turn to frights! This is the season when we enjoy being scared. Of course, fears stay with us the entire year, but in the spirit of the spooky season, now is an ideal time to consider the fear that scares you the most.

Shola Richards has looked fear in the eye and blogged about it. In a post titled, Never Too Late, he shared the one thing that he fears the most. It is not snakes, vampires, the dark, or taxes, but something much simpler and profound.

I have always found it so strange when people say that they’re fearless. Let me tell you upfront that I’m not one of those people.

Just like most rationally thinking human beings, I have fears (quite a few, to be honest). And without question, this is the fear that scares me the most:

Looking back on my life and realizing that I haven’t lived fully.

How is that his greatest fear? Shola proceeds to tell us exactly why over the next few sentences.

If you are going to be afraid of something, don’t be afraid of what may happen if you decide to fully live your life and chase your dreams.

Instead, be afraid of what will happen if you decide not to fully live your life and allow the ghosts of “what might have been” to haunt you relentlessly for the rest of your days until you finally die with a pitiful whimper.

That’s freaking terrifying to me. It should be for you too.

Through this post, Shola is issuing a challenge. What plan or dream for your life is being left to gather dust on the shelf due to fear of failure or ridicule? Just as on Halloween we face illusionary frights then laugh about it afterwards, why not do the same with the fears around your goals?

Face the fear and see what happens next.

It may not be as scary as you fear.

Should You Trust Your Gut?

Have you ever faced a tough decision and been given the advice to trust your gut? We tend to assume there is an unconscious but highly aware part of ourselves that intuitively knows the right answer. All we have to do is trust it. However, is that true?

According to a new book by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, called Don’t Trust Your Gut, the answer is no, especially if we want to be happy. In a recent interview article on Vox, journalist Sean Illing shares that “it’s wrong because our intuitions are often influenced by false impressions or dubious conventional wisdom.”

In a conversation with Stephens-Davidowitz, Illing asked him about which conditions are conducive to trusting your gut:

There have been these studies that show if you do something in a controlled environment, many times, then your intuition is able to sense things that it would be impossible to otherwise sense, such as a firefighter who can sense that there’s a fire even before it reaches conscious awareness or is visible.

So I think there are times where our gut can be useful. But I think our gut is massively overrated.

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Later on in the interview, the discussion turns to the connection between our gut reactions and happiness. Stephens-Davidowitz says about recent studies on the topic:

And they found all these things like, socializing, being with friends: really, really important. Being with your romantic partner: really, really important. Many of us think that we’re gonna have a good time if we just lie on our couch and browse the internet, or go on social media or play an iPhone game. And the data, when you actually ask people doing that, they tend to say they’re not particularly happy doing that.

Read the rest of the article on Vox.