I had always assumed that I was a lazy idiot who couldn’t get anything done. I really wanted to create an amazing life. I wanted to release the frustration I felt every day.
I wanted to do the things that I knew would change my life for the better. I wanted to work out, meditate, and write a mind blowing blog post every day that would help change people’s lives.
But screw it. I didn’t REALLY want all that;
I’d never let other people’s desires come before my needs. I’d even make sure my depression was punished into submission and I’d be able to get the best of myself out every day.
After all, that’s what all of the self help courses and books I bought told me. ‘Just suck it up and do what matters!’
Sometimes they’d throw in a “It’s hard, but it’s worth is!” or “Put more emotion into it!”
Yeah, easier said than done, and that’s the point. We have a conglomerate of experiences and influences pushing us away from our dreams, desires and goals.
Media is constantly touting examples for us to follow of those who’s willpower seems to have no limits. Those capable of super human efforts. Entrepreneurs who are able to will billion dollar businesses into existence, starting with nothing but a vision, napkin and pen. “Addicts” who have just ‘decided’ to quit, and never thought about their addiction again.
Not that these aren’t inspiring, but they’re bullshit.
In his book “Free Will”, Sam Harris delves deep into the question of “What makes us want what we want?”.
The “Free” part of “Free Will” is an illusion of control perpetrated on our consciousness by our brains.
In reality, the reason we do most things is decided by influences outside of our control. And if you think about it, most of your ‘failures’ are likely not your fault.
Last time you decided you’d have a workout routine, or start a new year’s resolution kick, after a few weeks, what was keeping you from feeling like you MUST continue with it? What caused that? Why did you say those things to yourself? Why did you feel that way? Why did you prioritize other things?
Much of what caused us to succeed or fail is unknown to us, or outside of our control. Sure there are things we can do to make ourselves more likely to succeed, but moment to moment, none of that matters. We also have baises that point us to say “What I did mattered!”. And as much as we may think that our influence over our decisions is great, we have to ask the question: What made us decide to make those decisions, or think those thoughts?
Taking a long hard look at life and the science of the brain leads us to a singular conclusion: We are a product of our environment, therefore, if we want to affect change in ourselves, in our lives, in others, in communities, in nations, we need not focus on using our willpower. We must instead focus our efforts on reshaping the physical and mental environments to support the new behaviors we want to see in the world.
Environment matters more than willpower.
This is one of the reasons why companies like Google are so successful at finding and fostering good talent. They went so far as to provide good, health options for food, for free, so their engineers didn’t have to think about lunch, and instead could focus solely on their work.
This is the reason why putting your shoes by the front door and your alarm clock in your shoes will dramatically increase your ability to establish an exercise habit.
This applies to your mental environment too.
The addict that quit got themselves to no longer identify with addict behaviors. Did it happen instantaneously? Probably not, but it makes a good story and makes them feel good about themselves.
The entrepreneur with seemingly infinite willpower believes 100% that willpower is infinite (Which it kind of is, or at least, you have more than you could ever possibly use, you just don’t know how to tap it).
With out these identity shifts or these beliefs, these incredible stories wouldn’t be the exception to the rule, they’d be statistics. The addict would be an unfortunate overdose, leaving their family in despair and their legacy in ruin. The entrepreneur would be a broke failure, along with more than 90% of her peers.
What made the entrepreneur believe willpower is infinite? Maybe she had a mentor who drilled it into her head.
What made the addict shift their identity? Maybe they joined a health and fitness cult, and told themselves “A healthy person doesn’t do meth.”
The amount of willpower required to make small, but important changes to our environment, physically or mentally, is dramatically lower than what is required to create a new habit out of thin air, or to get yourself to do something you don’t want to do.
When we realize that much of our willpower and decisions are outside of our control, we can begin focusing on influencing the influencers of our behavior.
This is the path of least resistance.
Water and behavior flow to the path of least resistance. As they flow, they erode the path, making it wider and easier to flow through. This is how we build habits, form new identities, and create new beliefs. One trickle of effort at a time. And just like a stream of water with an infinite basin, over time a trickle becomes a stream, which will become a river of unstoppable momentum.
Because of this, the goal changes. It’s no longer “lose 10 pounds” or “write a blog post every day” or “stop procrastabating”. You must point your compass of desire to something you never thought to desire. You must discover the path of least resistance to the core desire of your goals.
When we begin to follow the path of least resistance, we discover a “super power” of the human mind. We find ourselves moving through life effortlessly.
I’m out of time for my writing today, but in the next few days I’ll be posting about how to find the path of least resistance to a goal.
For now, I’d like to know your thoughts. Do you disagree with me? What would you do instead? Have you seen this play out in your life?
NOTE: This is part of a 3 part series. You can view Part 2 & 3 here:
Forget Self-Discipline Part 2: https://stephenhnilica.com/self-discipline-motivation-part-2
Forget Self-Discipline Part 3: https://stephenhnilica.com/self-discipline-motivation-part-3