Willpower Doesn’t Work!

Willpower is often toted as being an essential ingredient in staying the course while trying to achieve an objective. Grit your teeth, grunt and sweat it out! Well , that may be helpful when going for a PB with your squats and dead lifts, but when it comes to significant change in any other area of your life, it just doesn’t cut it.

Why is that? It’s because we’re only talking surface level effort. Achieving a substantial goal is going to require a different kind of effort. When we’re taking on a challenging endeavour, you can guarantee it’s going to require more out of us than what we’ve been doing. Whether it’s more of what we’re doing well or something completely different ( and it’s usually the latter ), there will be some resistance at a subconscious level. So making a conscious decision to overcome that resistance just won’t work. Think about it. If that was the case, then we could change just by waking up tomorrow and saying, “I’m going to stop procrastinating today” or “I’m going to stop being impatient today” .

The reason we can’t, is because our habitual thoughts and behaviours are determined at a subconscious level. There are underlying assumptions about ourselves that drive the way we act. We can desire something, even very badly, but as long as we have a negative belief underpinning that, we will be held back. The subconscious is the motor that drives us so it has to be given different instructions.

Science has determined that 40% of our behaviour is performed automatically without even thinking about it. It comes in very handy when breathing, blinking and our hearts beating. Could you imagine having to make conscious effort to do all of those things? We wouldn’t have time for anything else, it would drive us friggin’ mad! However, when we consider personality traits we would like to change, they are habitual as well. We’re literally doing them automatically just like driving a car. Losing our temper too quickly, constantly running late, over eating, procrastinating, etc etc.

Significant behavioural change takes commitment yes, but not superficial “will power”. It takes digging beneath the surface to establish what is behind the behaviour. What are the underlying assumptions driving it, sustaining it. That’s what has to be dealt with first. Pulling those support structures down paves the way to build new behaviours that are more conducive to us being more productive, achieving what we want and having a greater quality of life.

It’s the moon or the stars, you can’t do both! guidelines for effective goal setting and increasing productivity


You may have heard the quote;

“If shoot for the moon, and miss,  at least you’ll be among the stars!”

There is another spin on it which says;

“If you shoot for the stars and miss, you’ll land on the moon”

The phrase’s implication is that if you set yourself a high enough goal, even if you don’t reach it, you may at least get somewhere. It assumes that it’s ok to have an unrealistically high goal.  Well, there’s a problem with that assumption , which I’m going to talk about in this post, because  it can seriously impede someone ultimately achieving what they want.

Houston we have a problem! – Choose where you’re headed

The fact of the matter is that you get what you focus on , what you’re aiming for is your target. So when you set your sights on something, that is your goal. If you start out with a half hearted attempt, saying to yourself “Oh it doesn’t matter if I don’t reach that goal, maybe I’ll at least get halfway “, then the halfway is your goal. That’s fine if it is, but it’s better to make it your objective in the first place. Otherwise it can leave you with a sense of disappointment , that you failed and didn’t accomplish what you set out to do.

Imagine if the Apollo 11 crew missed their goal of reaching the moon. I couldn’t imagine Neil Armstrong turning around to Buzz Aldrin and saying, “Well Buzz, at least we’re among the stars. Let’s relax and enjoy the view until we run out of oxygen and asphyxiate to death. Lucky us!”

The fact of the matter is, they had to do a lot of course correction on the way to the moon and Armstrong even had to eventually manually land the module. The goal however, remained the same, land on the moon. They weren’t distracted by anything else, they remained steadfast in their intention, this is what they had planned and practiced for.

If as long as you have the attitude of , “It’s ok if I don’t make that goal, at least I’ll get somewhere”, you are not committed. It’s one or the other.

Lost in space – clearly define your goals

It’s remarkable how many people don’t clearly define their goals, much less write them out. They say that people that do amount to 1% of the population. That’s an elite class to be in! Who wants to be “among the stars”, there are about 163 million of them in our galaxy alone, being among the stars is akin to being nowhere. How vague can you get? It’s like when people set a goal of “I want to be happy.” When? On Monday mornings? When your mother in law visits? 24/7? How will you know when you’ve truly achieved happiness?

When you decide on a goal, make sure you really want it, be clear about why, as that’s what you will fall back on when the going gets tough. Goals that don’t thrill you, won’t move you. I’m talking about moving into action, not moved emotionally, by the way. Also make sure it’s something you’re capable of, that you have the resources and skills required. Enthusiasm is great, but the momentum created quickly fizzles out if you don’t have clear purpose and direction. 

Ready for takeoff – the final checklist

Shoot for the moon by all means, but make sure you’re ready for the trip. That means;

  • You have a good reason to go there – You know why you’re doing it, it has meaning and purpose
  • You have enough fuel – do you have what it takes to achieve this goal? If not, time to reconfigure
  • You can set aside the time – there are other things in your life that will still need your attention
  • Your family are ok with it – see above. Do you have their backing? Will they also benefit from this?

I’d love to hear your comments about this, you can put them in the box below. If you want a more in depth look at how to set the right sort of goals and do more in less time, ask me about my free, 45 minute presentation on “How to Have the Best Year of Your Life”. You won’t regret it, I can assure you!

Enjoy your journey!



Is being “busy” your badge of honour?


I recently had a lawyer proudly tell me they were so busy that the previous night he had to stay up until 2am working on a case and that it was a regular occurrence. He was wearing his “busyness” as a badge of honour, something to be proud of. Wow, I wonder how his family feel about that?

Another common comment is “we’re too busy to procrastinate!” Seriously? Being too busy is often the main cause of procrastination! What are you busy doing? Or more importantly, what are you not doing because you’re so busy? Dealing with the day to day “bushfires” may mean you’re not taking the time to plan for the future. Have you mapped out a path to take you where you want to be in five years? Do you even know where you want to be in five years?

Being busy is definitely not something to aspire to as far as I’m concerned. I’m not alone with that point of view. Best selling author Tim Ferris has this to say about it; “Being busy is a form of laziness-lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. Being overwhelmed is as unproductive as doing nothing. Being selective-doing less-is the path of the productive.” (The Four Hour Work Week pg 75)

People tend to avoid something they perceive as being too hard. They let themselves get consumed with things that are not as high priority, yet they are comfortable doing. We feel safe with the familiar.

What happens as a consequence? Relationships suffer, staff leave, progress stagnates, stress and frustration become more prevalent. People will blame all manner of things, but in the end, the real reason was the avoidance of the action that would have prevented the negative outcome in the first place. Of course, everything else under the sun will get blamed instead.

It’s time to take stock of what you’re doing, ask yourself it’s relevance in the greater scheme of things. If it’s aligned with your purpose and greater goals, good. If it’s just a distraction from the most important action you should be taking, time to reevaluate why you’re doing it. Accomplishments that have genuine meaning and purpose for you are your real badges of honour.

Who am I? - how to overcome a poor self image

cat vs lionMost people suffer an identity crisis at some time in their life, though some unfortunate ones suffer it all their lives! As humans there are identifiable stages we go through from birth till death. We are first babies, then toddlers, young children, teenagers, young adults, middle aged and then seniors. Some of these stages have more significant effect on us than others.  Adolescence and midlife are often tumultuous life transitions because of the substantial changes both physically and emotionally. Other significant events are serious illness, relationship breakdowns and career changes.

The way we experience these transitions is often affected by the beliefs  we have about ourselves, often adopted at an early age. People with healthy self esteem are able to ride through challenges relatively unscathed as they see these are external events they go through but do not base their identity on them. For example, someone who enters midlife but has high self esteem would most likely embrace the changes he or she is going through, draw on their strengths, re-examine their values and plan for the second half of their life. Someone with low self esteem would be more prone to having a mid-life crisis.

Self esteem also plays an important role in relationships. People with low opinions of themselves often have a hard time. They are more susceptible to being hurt as they will take comments and feedback very personally. Unfortunately when relationships fail for these people, it only serves to reinforce their feelings of unworthiness. That’s why we often see people in abusive relationships continue the cycle. They attract abusive partners to them through their belief, albeit unconsciously, that they not worthy of anything better.

So how do we go about establishing a positive self identity? The first step is to separate events from our interpretation of them. Events are actually neutral, neither good or bad, it’s the way we view them that affects our personality. To give a simple example, if you make a mistake in your work, something everyone is prone to at sometime or another, you can look at it two ways. You can feel condemned about it and use it as evidence that you are no good. Or you can view it objectively and say to yourself, even verbally if appropriate to do so, ” Everyone makes mistakes, I usually do this job without any issues. My mistakes do not determine who I am”.

The fact is, we create who we are through our perceptions. You may have had parents or teachers or peers that put you down and made you feel incapable of succeeding or achieving things for yourself. That is something that has a profound effect on children as they are so easily influenced. Many people carry those beliefs formed at an early age around with them into adulthood. Then as they have other experiences, these events are interpreted through the filter of their beliefs to reinforce who they think they are. An unsuccessful job interview will make the person of low self esteem more convinced he is no good. A failed relationship will put a further dent in their self image.

Everybody experiences feeling inferior to some degree, in more serious cases it becomes quite debilitating. What is necessary to overcome these self limiting beliefs is to have a reboot of yourself. Start challenging the way you look at yourself and use new filters to look at everyday events. Be more alert about the thoughts that pass through your mind, vigilantly guard against negative ones and toss them out. You may find this is hard at first, but if you can sustain it for 30 days, you’ll be well on the way to forming a new habit and genuinely changing the person you are just through having a more positive attitude towards yourself.

Who are you? You are a person of infinite value, it’s time to act like it!

What’s next? - being the decision maker in your life

fork in the road

I believe there are two kinds of people in this world, those that let circumstances and people dictate their future, and the ones that map out their own destiny.  We often hear statements, maybe even from our own lips, such as “I had no choice”,”he said I don’t have a chance”,”I’ve always been like this”. Self defeating statements that shift the accountability from ourselves onto others or circumstances supposedly beyond our control.  It’s an easy escape route that absolves us from taking responsibility for the circumstances we found ourselves in.

Let’s look at how that applies to relationships. You may have a partner that consistently denigrates you to the point that you question your self worth.  The things they say put you on a big guilt trip so you end up feeling condemned and responsible for their misery which is what they want as they are looking to offload responsibility for the way they are feeling onto you, their partner and the one easiest and closest to lash out at.

The way to react in these circumstances is not to retaliate with an equally harmful statement or react emotionally. Rather, acknowledge their pain, sympathize, but do not accept responsibility. Say something neutral like “Thanks for sharing that, I’m sorry that you feel that way “. Of course, if some of what they say genuinely resonates with you and is correct, and you feel it is the appropriate thing to do, then by all means apologize. But just be careful not to quickly fall into a guilt trap. It’s always better to take time to contemplate what has been shared and mull it over. Di-sect it and objectively evaluate it. Visualize yourself as a third party observer , strive for clarity of mind to see the truth. Even get the opinion of a third party to see what they think if you have somebody you trust to share it with.

We can’t always control what people say and do to us. If  a husband or wife asks for a divorce, or say they don’t love us any more, it can hit like a bomb shell. It’s understandable that there will be a period of time when we experience a mixture of extreme emotions such as grief, anger, sometimes denial.  But there has to come a time when we lift ourselves off the ground and get on with life. Some people use the negative experiences they go through as an excuse to perpetuate their roles as victims. Sure, life can really throw us some curve balls, but we have the power to determine how they will affect us. It’s only our thoughts that determine whether we rise or fall, at the end of the day, the choice is up to us.

You can be a victor or a loser, no one can make you either, you choose what you want to be. So wherever life has got you now, take a minute to think where you want to be. Visualize where you want to go, don’t worry right now about the details of how you’re going to get there.  For the moment, just fill your mind with the picture of what you want, your ideal situation. Once you are determined you are going to get there, without fail, the Universe will set in motion all the things you need to for your journey. The tools, the people, the situations are all already there waiting for you, you just need to ask.

We can be victims or victors, which one are you?

The dripping tap What changes are you putting off?

dripping tapThe tap in our main bathroom has been dripping for weeks! Every time I’ve been in there, I’ve said to myself, “I’ve got to change those washers!” Well, I finally got round to it this weekend, only to find it wasn’t that simple. The tap had to be re-seated as it had a score mark, which meant several hours of grinding. As it was , I couldn’t get it smooth again and it may require a plumber to fix. So something that should have taken a few minutes to fix, ended up becoming more complex because I didn’t get on to it right away as I should have.

That is very similar to many situations we face everyday. There are things we put off for whatever reason and in the end, the problem only worsens until we are forced to deal with it and find a solution, which often is more expensive and time consuming than it would have been if we had taken care of it earlier! And I’m not just talking about home maintenance issues either!

How many serious health problems could be avoided by being pro-active? I lost a close friend last year to bowel cancer. Though in his mid-50’s, he had not been having regular health checks. He had been passing blood a year before his death but hadn’t been quick to seek medical advice.

How many divorces could have been avoided   by couples dealing with issues before they got out of hand? They let things escalate to the point of no return and became casualties of the ever increasing divorce rate.

How many people could have successful, fulfilling careers if they had been brave enough to follow their intuition and had the confidence to step out and do something different? Many people put up with less than satisfactory conditions in their life. They feel they’re not good enough or not worthy enough to have something better. They may feel that the obstacles before them are insurmountable or they don’t have what it takes to improve their lot in life so they settle for second best.

That doesn’t have to be the case. Each one of us has unlimited capacity to create the future of our choice. Our own perceptions of what we are capable of are the only things that limit us. What things will you do today to take you a step in the direction of where your heart is leading you. Make a mental picture of what you want to achieve and fix it in your mind. Visualize that as your reality and then start to make plans of how you are going to achieve that vision.

Your journey to a brighter future starts by saying yes to what your heart is telling you to do. Remember, the journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step!




Thus far and no further! -Establishing boundaries in a relationship

boundary fence

In the Middle Ages, and indeed in ancient times well before that, walls were essential. Every decent sized settlement had a wall around it to protect the inhabitants from aggressors. Without it, the latter were able to come in at will to pillage and plunder. It was the people’s way of saying, “Without our permission, you are not permitted in this place. It is our sanctuary.”

Those days have long gone, but we can draw an important lesson from them. Without boundaries to protect us, people can violate our space. This can take many shapes and forms. From a friend who expects us to always be there for them, to an employer who demands more than is appropriate to a partner who is abusive, critical or demanding. Unless others know where they stand with us, unless we have set up clear boundaries to make it clear what we won’t tolerate, we leave ourselves open to be manipulated, overworked, and in the worst case, abused.

We all have areas in our lives that are in need of boundaries. We may be good at saying no to our employer but find it hard to refuse our children’s requests. We may know when we need time away from our friends but let a dominant partner manipulate us. The fact is, there may be a number of reasons why we don’t have boundaries in our lives. We may fear the consequences , that it will push people away, or that we may be perceived as being too strict or selfish.

What is important is to look at the consequences of not having boundaries. It can result in having stressful lives as we are so busy trying to please everybody. This can also lead to guilt as we are not able to meet everybody’s needs. Resentment can also occur towards the people who take advantage of us. This can in turn lead to feeling condemned and ashamed.

We need to have respect for ourselves and teach others to also have respect for us. Once we shift the focus off trying to please others and look to supporting and protecting ourselves, we can see the need for boundaries. It’s important to remember though that boundaries are not walls, we don’t want to keep everybody out. That’s why even the strongest fortifications have gates or doors to let those in who are welcome. What we really want to do is let the good in and keep the bad out.

When people see there is certain behaviour we are not willing to put up with, they will know where they stand with us. They will know we have boundaries and be careful not to cross that line. Of course, there will always be the ones that try and that’s where we need to stand our ground and have appropriate consequences for that sort of behaviour. It’s helpful to ask those you trust to give you honest opinions about what areas of your life are lacking boundaries. Sometimes we don’t see for ourselves areas where we are compromising. Having the healthy moral support of others can also help us stand our ground when we are tempted to waver.

The topic of boundaries is a big one and we’ve only begun to scratch the surface. But I hope these words have given you the motivation to start the process of contemplating areas of your life where you need to draw the line.

Who needs to hear from you, “Thus far, and no further!” ?