Stop It

Stop it.

Really, just stop it. What is it? You tell me.

Like many other people, I am a creature of habit and whatever lovely indulgence I allow to creep into my day once, then twice, becomes a minimum expectation for me. The teaspoon of sugar in my first coffee? Yep, eventually it’s in cup number 2 as well.  Hitting the snooze on my alarm so many times I can’t make the 5:45 am exercise class? If I let myself skip one planned workout a week for too many weeks I then begin to wiggle out of my planned workout two days or more.  My lifetime of experience feeling myself slide down slippery slopes has led me to have a practice of stopping one thing for a period of time once a year.

A few years ago, it was meat. No one was more shocked than I to find that a meatless existence suited me.  I do live in Texas, y’all. Some years it’s more exercise or different exercise, there have been boot camps, and triathalons, meditation, saying yes more (that’s a whole different post, I was single, it was not all good), coffee, going paperless, TV and a few others that long since past seem less notable.   

This year, I am giving up alcohol and sugar for one month. Both? Yes, both. Why would I give up alcohol and sugar in December of all months? It’s when my guy, Jon chooses to eliminate alcohol and much of the time I join him.

So, you might ask, knowing that this change does not always stick, why do I persist with what could be labelled an annual commitment to self – torture? It’s about willpower, self-control and what we can do that changes it. The understanding of the human brain continues to grow, and the book Willpower, by Roy F Baumeister and John Tierney created a number of lightbulb moments for me.

One of the basic premises of the book is that you have a single bucket of energy for making decisions each day and when that bucket is gone, you move toward easier decisions or as I experience it, you cave. Out of this energy bucket come decisions about when you get up; is it 4:30 am to work out or 6:30 am and the dog misses his daily walk? Also what you eat for breakfast, green smoothie or donut in the breakroom and everything else about your day, the energy to make the decision comes from this same place.

The bucket determines if you give in to your 3pm sugar crash and whether you actually hang in for the last hour of work to get that final deliverable completed or if you stop working 30 minutes or 3 hours early because you are just tired of making decisions and thinking. Various internet sources estimate that an adult makes over 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day and adults make 226 decision each day just on what to eat (Wansink and Sobal, 2007). So how do you get more of your decisions to be the right ones for you and your business?

Baumeister and his team found that putting some decisions on auto pilot actually frees up MORE of the energy in the bucket for important decisions and they tested it, one of the Willpower tests was how long people would leave their hands in a bowl of ice cold water after certain decision making exercises to see their level of decision fatigue.

While all of this was useful, what had a greater impact was the discovery by Baumeister and his team about how you increase your willpower. And they found:

“that willpower, like a muscle becomes fatigued from overuse but can be strengthened over the long term through exercise.”

When study participants exercised their willpower even in unrelated areas, focusing on posture as an example, it increased their willpower and stamina in other areas of their life and over time allowed the participants to more consistently hold out against temptation even when their resources were depleted.

So what are the key steps to strengthen our Willpower muscle and protect the bucket?

  1. Practice – exercising self-control in one area of life improved a participant’s willpower in other areas. Pick one area and practice. 
  2. Precommit  – lock yourself into a path with a clear start date. 
  3. Make it public.  You are less likely to let yourself off the hook or be derailed by outside influences if people know what you are working on. 
  4. Make room for mistakes. It’s possible that you won’t have 100% compliant behavior in your experiment and it can still strengthen the muscle. Just keep going.

So that’s my plan for what I am going to stop and for a period of time put on auto pilot. It will be a cranberry juice and soda kind of holiday this year and I am looking forward to reducing my mind traffic by having a few less decisions to make. How about you? Are you a New Year’s Resolution setter? Any habits or behaviors you would like to play with stopping or starting?

Want a good “Stop it” laugh? Then check this out:

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