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Six Things to Rely on Other than Willpower

Achieving goals requires focus, energy, and willpower. But all of those are resources that can be easily depleted, and if you don't have the skills to renew them, you can be caught empty-handed when you most need some support.

In their deeply enjoyable book Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success, the brilliant collection of authors lay out two things to consider as you're looking to make a change -- your motivation and your ability. That is, do you WANT to change, and do you KNOW HOW to change? (Remember the prioritizing matrix of want and need?)

They then break down those two considerations into three different realms -- personal, social, and structural or environmental. That yields six different ways to boost and support yourself. Let's look at each of them.

Personal Motivation is essentially your intrinsic and natural desire to achieve the goal or make the change. Assessing this from the start helps you realize how much energy or attention you'll need to put toward this goal. Knowing your own motivators (external rewards, motivational posters, social media bragging rights, whatever) also makes it easier to stick with your plan and provide yourself an extra boost of motivation when you know you'll start to dip.

For me, this has looked like writing myself a letter envisioning the future after achieving my goal and reading it on the days I don't want to get out of my warm bed, coming up with a mantra to repeat when I feel like comfort eating, or using my girls' undesirable behavior as a cue to start deep breathing. (I do this last one so much that every time my older daughter leaves her room while getting dressed, my younger one takes a deep breath and then looks at me and smiles.)

Personal Ability is about knowing what you need to do to achieve your goal. Sometimes this is clearer than others -- if you've tried a goal before and not reached it, you know more about your ability than if it's something brand new. Personal ability is about resources -- do I have what I need (knowledge, skills, ability) to achieve my goal? And if not, do I know where to find them?

Sometimes this looks like hiring a trainer (or a coach!), reading a book, listening to a parenting podcast, or talking to a more experienced runner about shoe recommendations.

Learning about Social Motivation was a huge unlock for me. This is essentially about whether the people around you know about your goal and if they actively support you, passively support you, actively oppose you, or passively oppose you. It's knowing who will bring you cake when dieting and who will go for an extra walk. Who wants to go shopping while you're saving money and who's happy to go to the free library exhibit. A key to social motivation is sharing your goals with others and gauging their responses and subsequent behaviors.

Social Ability is about whether the others around you know how to support you. If you're looking to meditate more, does your partner know you need the space and quiet to do so -- or, even better, does your partner take the kids out of the house for you?

I learned about this most clearly when my younger daughter was still nursing and I had to be both soy- and dairy-free. It was something of a nightmare; checking labels, eating cardboard fake cheese, and downing nut milks, but it was even harder for friends and family who didn't have the familiarity with the rigor of staying free of those ingredients. It took a lot of instruction and patience, but my mother took to it like only mothers can and was a HUGE support, enabling me to nurse my baby longer. (Thanks, mom!)

Structural or Environmental Motivation is about using the world around you to extrinsically motivate yourself. Maybe you buy biking shoes to entice yourself back onto the bike - or even better, buy new shoes once you've biked your first 100 miles. Or you can get rid of your fat pants so you can't easily put weight back on without knowing it. This can also be as simple as a star chart or bean jar for doing the things you said you'd do.

And finally, Structural or Environmental Ability is about using your physical space to support the behaviors you want and prevent the behaviors you don't. This could be going shopping without a credit card while trying to save money, or putting your fully-packed gym bag by the door so you can grab it on your way out in the morning. Maybe you remove the auto-saved credit cards on your favorite shopping websites, just to make it that much harder to impusle shop. It's not bringing peanut butter into the house if you (ahem) have a problem with eating too much peanut butter. I think of this one as using the world around you in a new way that makes your new behavior easier and your old one harder.

Now it's your turn! How can you use your own energy and knowledge to move forward? Who can you enlist and who should you avoid? And what structures can you put in place to make sure you're physically supported as you move ahead?

Check out to find out more about this model and approach. The book is a great read and full of useful examples.

(P.S. I know a good one -- call a coach for a trial session! You never know where that could end up!)

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