In the previous articles of the series (Know Your Priorities and Remove Distractions), I talked about motivation, how it is overrated and that you don’t need it to achieve your goals. I also talked about the importance to focus on the right things and the need to remove distractions from your environment. Finally, I talked about the inescapable truth that you won’t get anywhere significant without hard work.
All the talk about motivation is spurred from a simple premise. You understand you need to work hard to get things done, but you don’t have the willpower to do it. You may have the skills, but you are not motivated enough. You succumb to distractions too easily. If only you had more willpower, the world would be very different. Well, I have good news for you. Willpower is not required.
Willpower is not required
I used to think this excuse myself. “I just don’t have the willpower to do this, so I better just give up.” In fact, I still claim that I have exceptionally low willpower. I truly believe so. That is why I don’t rely on it. I simplify my life and my decisions, and I rely on processes and a routine to get things done.
I love to sleep. I hate to get up in the morning, especially in winter. So cold and dark. Yet, I get up at 5am every single day. I don’t need to make that decision every morning. I don’t need to rely on my weak willpower. I just get up. That’s what I do. Even during the weekends. That’s my routine I can depend on. Of course, I also know that I need some sleep, so part of the discipline is to get to bed at a reasonable time, so my body gets the rest it needs.
Self-discipline and willpower is not something you are born with. People who are self-disciplined are not some genetic freaks. They just understand that there are ways how to do things without relying on willpower.
Create a process
Years ago, I had a conversation with a head of an engineering team sitting in the USA who was asked to work with teams in Europe. He had a pretty distributed team already, but all of them were sitting in the same time zone. He resisted a lot to the idea of working with people who would be removed eight hours. There would be a limited overlap every day. His reasoning was that the way the team works they need constant communication to be effective. As it turned out he was right.
The problem was that there were no processes, no rules, no nothing that would allow for the type of work that wouldn’t rely on instant communication. It worked great for the original small team. It just wouldn’t scale for any sort of serious project.
Process is not a dirty word. Jeff Haden in his book The Motivation Myth says, “Dream big. Set a huge goal. Commit to your huge goal. Create a process that ensures you can reach your goal. Then forget about your huge goal and work your process instead.”
Don’t get distracted on a daily basis by dreaming about your final goal. It is too big, too far, and not really motivating for the day to day grind. Focus on doing the right thing instead. And do it consistently. Process and discipline are your friends.
Routinize your life
Routine removes choice. And that is a good thing. Having a choice is the arch-enemy of achieving your objectives. You are wasting your decision-making energy, your willpower, on making decisions you shouldn’t be making.
The problem is that there are many non-negotiables in your life. You have to take care of your kids, you have to earn money to do so, you have to eat and sleep. You don’t have to go for a run or eat healthy. Unless it becomes a routine. Then it is part of your non-negotiables. Once you set up a process you will follow, and you make it a habit, you remove the choice. You don’t have a choice to do the task, you just do it.
What can you do to have “better willpower”?
Limit decisions as much as possible – remove choices from your life, simplify and routinize everything you do, and remove temptations from your environment.
Do the hardest thing first before doing the easier stuff – if you postpone the most challenging task for later you are increasing a chance of not doing it at all and finding excuses why to delay it even more. As you go through the day, the levels of your mental energy drop and you run into decision fatigue.
Make sure you are being reminded of what your priorities are and what is important to you – if you are clear about your purpose, the decisions are made easily. In fact, most of them are not really decisions at all, they are just automatic choices to reach your goal.
Ignore things outside of your control – the endless brooding and complaining about something you can’t change is preventing you from focusing on stuff you can change.
Successful people don’t quit easily. It is easy to justify stopping before we reach a successful outcome. You may say that you did your best, you reached your limits, you have done all you could. The reality is often different. Yes, you are tired. Yes, you encountered some problems. Yes, you are even better than you were yesterday. And yes, you just created a self-imposed limit to what you can achieve. Chances are that you run into a mental barrier rather than a physical one. If you just grit it out, if you persevere you can reach your goal. Too often we succumb to our weak mind that is looking for comfort. Very rarely we reach our real limits.
I love the quote by Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t… you’re right.” It summarizes what the self-imposed limits are all about. If you accept defeat even before you start then you will get defeated.
You don’t need to be a superstar in your chosen field. However, you should strive to be the best you can be. And you should aim to bring something unique to the table. If you are in a team of four engineers and the three are obviously smarter than you are then bring something else that will make you valuable.
If you can’t be the smartest person, be the best listener, or the one who gets them talking, or the one who is always the most prepared, or the one who speaks to the customers to collect feedback. There are many things you can do to be the best at something in your part of the universe and thus be seen and feel valuable.
Become someone new
As you get better, you will become something new. Many of us realized that living healthier lives is a smart move. Let’s say you decide to improve your physique by running. A couple of times a week you go for a run. It is hard. You don’t like it much from the beginning, but after a couple of weeks, you see that you are improving. You can run longer distances, and you feel better after the run. Now the motivation kicks in. You are starting to like it. You are getting better, and you are increasing the effort to reap even more benefits. You start talking about it with other people, you join some mass runs, it is becoming your lifestyle. You are a runner now. It is not what you do, it is who you are. The way you are talking about running has changed from “I have to go for a run,” through “I want to go for a run,” to “I’m a runner, that’s what I do.”
Being able to say, “I’m doing this because that’s who I’m.” is much more powerful than saying “I do this because I have to,” or even “I do this because I want to.” Just by talking about something this way can dramatically increase your likelihood of sticking with it long-term.
The salespeople know this for ages. Just consider when you are talking to a sales person asking for a discount, and she says, “sorry, I can’t give you a discount.” What will you do? You will keep pushing, you may even ask if her manager would be able to do it, you will try to find some way of getting your discount.
Now consider if her response is, “sorry, we don’t give discounts.” It sounds much more definitive. It is non-negotiable. That’s who they are. That is their policy, their business model. You don’t argue with that.
Becoming something new, something more feels great precisely because of the effort and the pain you experienced to get there. You earned it. The same applies to your job. If you work hard, you build expertise, you are seen by others as a go-to person for a particular topic or a task, and then you get promoted to the role you are sort of doing already you feel satisfaction, and you have the confidence that you can do the job well.
If you use a short-cut and get promoted to the role because you are your bosses favorite pet, you may feel the rush of joy coming with a bigger paycheck, but it will quickly evaporate. You didn’t need to work for it, there was no pain, others are resentful of you, you feel like a fraud, you don’t feel like you actually achieved anything, and you either grow a really thick skin, or you leave.
I had seen this in many situations when people were rapidly promoted through the ranks without their skills and experiences to catch up. Ultimately, they got to a role that was way over their capabilities, and they didn’t last long. This often happens when promotions are being used as a retention tool. You should never ever promote people only because they will leave otherwise.
In fact, you should never ever accept a promotion you know is only designed to keep you in the company but you know in your heart that you are nowhere near the other people currently occupying those roles. You didn’t earn it, you won’t enjoy it.
Let’s put it all together
Motivation is not required to achieve anything. Hard work, grit, and perseverance are what you need. You get these by having clarity about what is important to you, and then focusing on it. You focus by removing distractions from your life, routinizing your days to limit decisions, and having a process that works for you and that will get you through the journey to your goal.
Celebrating the small wins, the small successes along the way will give you all the motivation you need to reach your goal. It will hurt. It will require sacrifices. It will be great as it will make you a better person and bring you the satisfaction with the life you seek.
What are your thoughts on accomplishing life goals? What are the tips and tricks you use? And where do you get motivation to keep going?
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