Willpower and Personality Change — Part One

I keep reading people posting on forums and on Reddit about how they strategize and try to force themselves into good habits using willpower.

And, in every case, people are posting because it doesn’t work. Maybe they got results for a few weeks, but the new habits didn’t “take”. These folks (and if you’ve read this far, likely “you”) are trying to figure out what tweaks can be made to get back “on track” and to make new habits last long-term.

And most of the advice?

It’s almost always of the “rah-rah!” pump-you-up variety (affirmations, tight schedules, repetition, punishment/reward systems, ascetic practices of all kinds, hardcore stoicism, etc.).

And it doesn’t work. It won’t work. It can’t work.

Affirmations work wonders when you truly believe them in your head, heart, and the pit of your stomach. If you don’t completely believe them on every level, you’re actually reinforcing your subconscious doubts and anxieties every time you read them or say them aloud.

You’re legitimately harming yourself.

Tight scheduling only works for people who enjoy having tight schedules. Everyone’s intelligence style is different and, for some, a tight schedule actually crushes momentum and stalls projects.

I’m not a “tight schedule” person. I start work promptly and grind through, but I like to pick the time at the start of the day and set deadlines as I go, not ahead of time. And it works for me because of the personality I designed for myself (more on that later).

There’s a ton of “get up early” advice floating around and it’s terrific advice for about 50% of people.

Some people, such as myself, love being awake early, but my most productive hours are between 5pm and midnight.

It’s measurable. I force myself to sleep late in order to be more productive — and it works.

Everyone’s peak-and-valley energy cycles are different and you need to explore your peak energy cycles for yourself and adjust accordingly, rather than trying (and likely failing) to copy some other person’s schedule just because he has a cool podcast.

Stoicism is a great tool when it is used correctly — i.e. when you have all the parts in place and you’re in the motion of grinding away at something you truly love and believe in and experience the occasional setback or catastrophe.

It’s a terrible philosophy for every day living.

I keep a copy of Meditations (Marcus Aurelius) next to my bed and always read a few passages after I’ve had a bad day.

And it helps.

But if you think this way on your good days, it sucks the life out of you and makes your time a series of joyless repetitions, marching steadily toward worms and dust.

Not exactly a recipe for inspired living.

“Alright man, so willpower doesn’t work. What works?”

Don’t get it twisted. Willpower is a great tool and it’s a vital, important part of Personality Change. It’s just that people make willpower out as “the way” and it isn’t. Willpower alone is the way to disappointment.

Personality Change is the process from which fundamental life changes and personal growth flow.

“Groovy gravy, how does it work?”

I outline this in Part 2.