We're told time and time again that what we need is better willpower?
Yet, science and endless studies have shown willpower to be ineffective. If you're tired, for example, you'll do things that you don't normally tend to do. Your willpower is completely ineffective in many situations.
However, numbers help. How do they help and why are they so underrated?
Let's find out.
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How do you pay for your house when your mortgage payments are as high as 9%?
We decided to buy our house four months after we moved to New Zealand. The mortgage seemed manageable, even though the interest rate was relatively high back then.
We read several books to make doubly sure we paid our mortgage efficiently.
One was by author Anita Bell, called: Your Mortgage and How to pay it off in five years (by someone who did it in three). She had several pieces of advice and a system to pay off the mortgage. The lesson we took from the book was how we needed to monitor our “eating out” expenditure.
We decided to spend $150 per month on “eating out”.
If we were careful and went to places that weren't so expensive, we could eat out about five times a month. However, if we decided to splurge and spend the entire budget in the first week, there would be no “eating out” for the rest of the month.
Before we set out this benchmark, we believed we weren't eating out so much after all. When we did look at our credit card bill, we'd be spending twice or thrice the amount.
However, there was a clear benchmark once we decided on the amount. Once we reached the $150 mark, we had to stop.
Benchmarks (rather than willpower) are an ideal way to reach almost all your goals.
Take the example of Ravi Gupta from Sequoia Capital. He aims to keep fit, not just for himself, but to be healthy enough to “run with his young kids”. In an interview, he mentioned how some people love exercise. As you can tell, he's not one of those people.
To keep his weight under check, not only would he need to exercise, but he would also need to eat smarter. His trainer gave him a benchmark: There are 21 meals in a week. If you want to lose weight, 19—or more—of those meals must be good. To maintain your weight, 15-19 of them. If it's less than 15, you're going to gain weight.
Willpower asks you to choose, to make a decision.
If you want to take willpower out of the equation, decision-making must be minimal. It's just a count, instead. You're not deciding if you are going to go for a walk or not. If you step on the street at 6 am, you'll find the people who go for a walk do so based on their benchmark. One of these people we know of is a 65 year 0ld named Eddie.
“If it's raining, I don't walk,” he told us one day.
Eddie wakes up every morning and listens to the sound of precipitation. If it's already raining, he stays indoors. If the rain is in the forecast, he still goes for a walk. The only thing that stops him from walking is if it's raining at the point of departure.
It rains about 180 days in Auckland annually: Guess how many days Eddie stays at home? He's always on the road at 6 am all year long because there are only so many days that it rains at the exact moment he's leaving the door.
Willpower is tiring almost all the time.
It might sound like keeping the expenses to $150 a month or counting how many meals you eat is just another form of willpower. And it's fair to say it does sound like willpower. Yet it spurs people on in a completely different way when they have something numerical.
In some situations where there's nothing to count at all.
You don't say: I'll brush my teeth on five days out of seven. You brush daily; if you don't, there's a fair chance of tooth decay. If you choose to do something every day, that also strips the willpower out of all its strength.
Put another way, if you have to make a decision, then you are going to need willpower. If you don't have to decide, you'll get at least a little bit, if not all, of the work done.
Most times, the ones that meet their goals are the ones with a mantra.
I wake up before 4 am, but that's because I'm at work at 4 am. Do I like to wake up that early? Not really. I envy those who can sleep in until 7 am or later. Even so, it's easy to do nothing, even if I'm up. I can read the news, go through e-mail or even watch Netflix at that early hour.
What gets me to get out of bed and go to the office in the dark morning? It's simply a mantra I have that goes like this: successful people hate doing the same things that unsuccessful people hate doing, but they do it anyway.
The mantra takes the decision-making away from my hands.
I don't have to decide because it's constantly reminding me that I have to get to work or I won't do what I have set out for the day. That very same mantra plays a reverse role when I'm on holiday and often seem to sleep in until almost 5:30 am 🙂
The success when I'm on vacation is to sleep in as much as possible. In both cases, the main factor isn't willpower. It's the absence of decision-making. If you have to make a decision, you're already putting yourself in a position where there's a greater chance of failure because willpower is tiring.
There will be days when I throw the mantra, numbers and willpower in the garbage
On some days you're too overwhelmed, or just too tired. I find that I eat too much on those days. I rustle through the snack boxes; I dig up the cheese from the fridge; if there's icecream I'll probably have several helpings. Everyone is entitled to their little breakdown from time to time.
However, on most days, things go smoother simply because there's a system in place. It's not easy—which is why it's almost always a struggle, but without a tiny system of this nature, all we end up doing is reading one more book, one more article on habits, and not getting things done.
Get yourself a mantra or a numerical benchmark. Try it. It's worth the tiny effort.