Where There's A Will . . .

Monday, January 28, 2013
I started out the new year with some of the most stereotypical reading material ever. In the early days of January, I churned through Kelly McGonigal's The Willpower Instinct, learning all the mind games we play on ourselves and how we frequently derail our best intentions. In the book, McGonigal encourages the reader to take on a willpower challenge to test out the concepts and ideas she introduces about the science and psychology of willpower.

We all have behaviors and habits we wish we didn't and thinking of a willpower challenge is less than challenging for most of us. For me, my default willpower challenge has always been procrastination. I frequently find myself scrolling through Facebook and Pinterest when I'm meant to be doing something else. So inspired by McGonigal's writings and since, it was a new year and all, I made the resolution to stop procrastinating so much. (Oh stop laughing you.) I also wanted to consistently get up at a time I deemed "a decent hour" on workdays.

And here we are, nearly at the end of the first month of 2013, at a time when the vast majority of New Year's resolutions have already been broken. And I'm proud to say that I'm still hard at work on my willpower challenges.

The getting up at a decent hour (which I declare is 7 . . . working from home is rough ;) actually turned out to be a cinch. When I realized the weather station that sits on shelving units around the corner from our bedroom door has an alarm, I simply started setting the alarm each night. When it goes off in the morning, I'm forced out of bed to turn off the alarm. And because I really don't care for the groggy sprint out the bedroom door to the buzzing alarm, I tend to wake up a couple minutes ahead of the alarm. Best of all, because I know I'm getting up at the same time each morning, I've started going to bed at a more consistent time too.  

But my procrastination willpower challenge is a whole 'nother beast. By being mindful of my habits and tendencies, I realized last week that I don't actually have a procrastination problem. Nowadays, I actually do get the vast majority of the things I'll say I'll do done. (Chalk up that one to growing older.)

What I lack is focus. (Oh look . . . shiny!)

I've always felt like I have a procrastination problem because I never manage to finish everything I think I should get done, even if I am finishing what I have to get done. 

So what's getting in between me and accomplishment? Oh, I don't know . . . maybe my penchant for having a gazillion windows open both on my desktop and in Firefox, which I flip between absentmindedly all the while I'm convincing myself that I'm doing something useful like writing a blog post or researching an article? Maybe the fact that I respond like one of Pavlov's dogs whenever I hear the "new email" chime?  

So as we move into February, I'm retuning my willpower challenge a bit. It turns out my procrastination problem can fix itself if I learn to tune out distractions and focus solely on each individual task I lay out before me.

In her series on handmade businesses back in October, Gussy Sews suggested that you only check twice a day. At the time, I found the idea horrifying. But I need to check my email all day, I thought. I need to respond to some emails asap. But really, whether I respond to an email within three minutes or three hours usually makes little to no difference.

My email doesn't need to be churning around in the background. In fact, I think this is a habit I picked up during my temp days as an administrative assistant. I often found myself with very little to fill my workdays. Having Outlook open at all times on my desktop gave me an allusion of purpose, even if, as a temp worker,  the only emails I got a regular basis were approvals of the week before's timecard.(Habits can be so silly when you get to the root of them.)

I'll be limiting my email checking in the coming weeks and I'll also be trying to cut back on my mindless internet surfing and we'll see how it goes.

The thing is, you never conquer your willpower habit. Sure, it might become an ingrained habit, but in truth, every single morning we are starting our willpower challenges all over again. Every day we have a choice to live up to the expectations we've set for ourselves to meet our long term goals, or we can choose the easier route with faster rewards. It's not easy conquering our willpower challenges, but it's most definitely worth it.

Did you make any new year's resolutions? If so, how are you doing with them? How do you stay focused?

1 comment:

  1. You and I sound a lot alike! I could stand to follow suit on the email thing. I'm not an important, in-demand person. So why do I check my email like one? It's definitely a habit that I picked up from my job, too, but it's also because I'm blog obsessed. But the more I spent checking my email, the less time I actually spend... blogging. And as someone who has the tendency to leave ten tabs open at any given time, cutting down on that might also help with the productivity level, as well. Good to hear someone's following through on their resolutions!


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