And it all began with one small win.
When Jim Meyer decided to lose weight and get in better shape he weighed 311 pounds. When asked what made him decide to change, he said, “The day I couldn't breathe when I bent over to tie my shoes.” Since then, Jim has lost over 100 pounds and considers himself in the best shape of his life.
There is a simple equation at the core of Jim’s success, it is Willpower = Reward + Desire - Pain. Dozens of studies show that willpower is the single most important keystone habit for individual success.
In Jim’s experience, it felt like he forgot how to exert willpower. Some days he would come home from work and have a ton of energy for tasks around the house. Other days, he couldn’t do anything besides lie on the couch and watch television. It was as if his brain – or, at least, that part of his brain responsible for making him exercise – had forgotten how to summon the willpower to push him out the door. Some days, he ate healthily. Other days, when he was tired, he raided the vending machine and stuffed himself with candy and chips.
Willpower isn’t just a skill, it’s a muscle and like the muscles in your arms or legs, it needs to be worked. As Jim strengthened his willpower muscle for exercise, that strength spilled over into what he ate and how hard he worked out. Once his willpower became stronger, it touched everything from work to family.
“When you learn to force yourself to go to the gym or eat something healthy, you get better at regulating your impulses,” said Jim. “You learn how to distract yourself from temptation.” Once you’ve gotten in the willpower groove, your brain gets super focused on helping you achieve your goals.
Willpower is so effective because it creates what’s known in the academic literature as a “small win.” Small wins are exactly what they sound like, and are part of how willpower creates widespread changes. A huge body of research has shown that small wins have enormous power, an influence disproportionate to the accomplishments of the victories themselves. “Losing an average of three pounds per week was a small win weekly that was a steady application of a small advantage,” explained Jim. Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.
Small wins can be scattered. They do not have to combine in a neat, linear, serial form, with each step being a demonstrable step closer to some predetermined goal. Which is precisely what happened with Jim. Some weeks Jim would lose weight and other weeks he wouldn’t. He was more focused on the long-term and being around for his family in the future.
There is, unfortunately, no specific set of steps guaranteed to work for every person. For a habit to stay changed a person must believe it is possible. The evidence is clear: If you want to accomplish something, you must build your willpower muscle. This will increase your odds of success dramatically.
By Mike Koskiniemi PhD – Motions Fitness