Have you ever made a commitment to run in the morning, only to wake so up groggy and cozy you never get out of bed? Or you commit to reading your Bible everyday, only to get overwhelmed by finding a time or place or knowing what to read? Or you commit to eating healthier, but end up driving through because your fridge is empty?
The problem is that we approach our goals unprepared. We think that by pure willpower alone, we can achieve anything. But despite the promises of Mr. Rogers and our parents, the axiom “you can do anything if you try hard enough,” has failed us again and again.
I learned from reading Charles Duhigg that willpower is a muscle. It can lift big things, and then it gets tired. So in order to achieve the goals we set out we need something that helps our muscles, something like a pulley.
The number one thing you can do to help achieve your goals is determine what you can do ahead of time to set yourself up for success. In other words, you create pulleys, so that when the time comes, your willpower muscles have to do as little lifting as possible.
The classic example of this is the runner who lays out her running clothes the night before. When she wakes up she may be groggy, but it’s easy to slide on her running shoes.
I’m writing this post after a marathon of cooking and watching The West Wing. After a few weeks of being embarrassed by the number of (usually unhealthy) meals I’ve eaten out, I spent $50 dollars in the grocery store purchasing healthy ingredients I can arrange into tasty meals. I turned on my favorite White House drama and got to work.
For the next two weeks, when I wake up in the morning, I won’t be tempted to skip the most important meal of the day or eat something sugary I’ll regret in an hour. After a minute in the microwave (which I spend brewing coffee in my aeropress), I’ll be able to sit down with my journal and Bible and eat a healthy red potato-sausage-spinach hash that would cost me $10 in my favorite café. Money is saved, healthy food is eaten and time is spent on what matters.
One downside of willpower being a muscle is that, like a muscle, it can be fatigued. Setting up pulleys means less stress on your willpower muscle, saving it for the hard decisions. This leads to an unexpected healthy side-effect: when tempted, you have the energy to overcome to avoid so “no” to bad decisions and habits which haunt you.
Here are some of the pulley’s I’m trying to set up:
- Bible Reading and Journaling Plans
I find daily devotional time essential for staying focused on the big picture. The sheer immensity of the Christian scriptures can make it overwhelming, and not knowing what to write in a journal is distracting. This year I’m using Tom Wright’s New Testament commentary, and I use a regular process of prayer journaling to help process and apply what I’ve just read.
- Automated Giving, Bills and Savings.
The government is smart. They take their money from my paycheck before I can spend it. I’ve stolen their idea to ensure I pay for what is important. By setting up automated transfers and bill pay, I give to my church & charities before I can spend it, put money into savings, and pay my bills get paid on time. Better yet, I never have to think about it!
- Packing for the gym
I used to miss my workout because I would forget to pack something important in my gym bag. When I fold my laundry on the weekends, I also pack a bag for the gym. This includes shoes, toiletries, a fast drying gym towel, and my clothes for the week. This means I have almost no excuse to skip a workout.
What pulleys have you been able to set up in your life?