It’s difficult to maintain willpower over a long period of time. Yes, we can stick to a low-fat 1000-calorie diet and starve ourselves for a week or two, but at some point our willpower fades. And yes, we can do hateful exercises for a while… until we run out of willpower.
But what about getting up every morning to take the kids to school, brush our teeth, or go to work every day? These may not be our favorite activities either, but we do them every day without running the risk of running out of willpower. This is because they have become a habit. They are so deeply rooted in what we do and who we are that we do them without even thinking about skipping a day or a week. We don’t have to make a conscious decision every day to shower or go to work. It is simply what we do – a habit.
When you start to think about it, there is an inverse relationship between habits and willpower. Once you start to build a new habit, it takes a lot of willpower to make it happen, day after day. When you start to acquire this habit, it becomes easier and easier until you don’t even have to think about it anymore.
Just being aware of this process helps us to keep it up. We know that we don’t always have to exert ourselves so much to go to the gym or skip the donut for breakfast. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. We know that at some point it will become a habit to go for a run first thing in the morning and get fruit or make eggs for breakfast.
While we are in this transition from willpower to habit, we can use tools to make it easier. Use a to-do list or set a reminder to stay on the right track. Find a partner who is accountable so that you both can motivate each other and help to strengthen this willpower when it starts to weaken after the initial enthusiasm. Even something as simple as laying out your running clothes the night before and keeping your sneakers at the door will make it a little easier to go out for that run.
Do what you can to help your willpower until you have made the new behavior a habit. After that it will be easy and automatic and you will have created a new lifelong habit.