In October last year, after I made the decision to leave the gym I was working at to do my own freelance personal training, I decided to enrol in perhaps one of the best Sports and Exercise Nutrition certification in the world. I’ve read a lot about it and as a trainer who was quite picky about my credentials, I was sold. I wouldn’t pick a course to do unless I am absolutely dead certain it can help me help my clients. And I absolutely won’t just certify myself just because it was cool to own it.
Nutrition has, for the longest time in my fitness career been my passion and when I talk about fitness, I tend to skew more about the eating part of things so I knew I had to do something about it. So I enrolled.
Little did I know that this course is going to take up A LOT OF TIME. And it’s not the course’s fault. It’s mine.
How many times in life have we started something only to stop halfway and then return back a couple of month’s later realizing that you’ve left the thing there at that spot?
Or what about that P90x DVD you bought and all of a sudden you stop at the 54-th day mark because you’re just not bothered to finish it? (Ok… I was guilty of this)
It’s pretty easy to get ourselves in this situation – being all motivated and pumped up only to lose the momentum at home run. You can tell yourself what you want and how badly you want it but you just can’t seem to finish it.
Today you’re going to learn how to be awesome and finish off what you started. No it’s not going to be a whole heap of in-your-face motivation because finishing off what you initially started requires more than that. It requires serious willpower. Or strength. Or some bad-ass internal energy to complete.
I completed one of the biggest task I’ve always wanted to do yesterday. And you are joining me in this spirit of awesomeness today.
The Awesomeness That Is Willpower
Today I want you all to imagine that you’re Katniss Everdeen (or Peeta Mellark if you really have to…) and you’re battling in the 74th Hunger Games. As the battle proceeds, you’ll meet other tributes who would love to take you down and kill you but you have to stay alive. You’re fighting 23 other tributes, including the one from your district and it’s not an easy task. Katniss had a strategy. She knew what to do and who to kill first to benefit her. Your willpower is just like that.
But, I sucked at it. I took my willpower for granted when I knew it could’ve pushed me to complete my course way earlier.
There are several reasons why I wasn’t a great Katniss Everdeen:
1. I was doing a lot of things at one time. When Katniss fought in the games, she attacked each tribute one at a time. When I started the course, I was too ambitious. I just got out of gym to pursue my freelance business, which means I had to concentrate a lot on my marketing, getting leads and training new clients. I underestimated the fact that the course is going to take a lot of my time if I plan to finish it in three months (which was in fact, my initial plan). I was ALSO travelling Asia, moving countries and settling in. That is probably the best recipe to failure.
2. I was doing something big that required a lot of my love and attention. Going back to study is a big thing, BUT starting independent study for the first time is huge. Yes I had the drive to finish it but I could probably do better if I had set realistic goals taking this huge factor into consideration.
3. I had no strategy. I ‘winged’ it. And like a lot of things in life, I just tend to do something without actually sitting down and thinking about how I plan to finish it. That’s not very smart.
If the reasons above sounds familiar to you and you happen to suck at finishing what you started because of that, it’s okay. I’ve been there. And today we’re going to change that.
It’s Awesome But It’s Limited
The thing about willpower is that, we only have a limited amount of it. If we keep using it every single day with no plan, direction or purpose we will end up losing it. If we do too many things at one time, or if we’re planning to change too much of our habits at one go, we lose our willpower. It’s so much easier to try and fix things one at a time until it becomes second nature to our willpower, almost like a no-brainer, rather than trying to do too much at once. This applies to so many things in life, not just exercise and nutrition.
I’m going to put my nerd glasses on now and mention a study done in 1998 about radishes and cookies. After being told to come in after an overnight fast, a few subjects were placed in a room with a plate of freshly baked cookies. They were then told not to eat the cookies, but instead to have some radishes which was next to the cookies. Right after that experiment, the subjects were told to solve a really difficult puzzle. It was then found that the subjects who resisted the cookies, who of course used their willpower, gave up on the puzzle after 8 minutes, compared to the subjects who gave up resisting the cookies and then stayed on the puzzle for an average of 19 minutes! Boom, willpower game over.
What this simply means to us (removing nerd glasses now…) is that:
The more difficult the task is, the more willpower we have to use, the lesser willpower we have for other things.
The more willpower we use for a certain task, the less we have for other tasks.
If we try do so many things at once, we risk having our willpower depleted faster for all, not just one of the task.
Which was what happened to me and my nutrition course.
How To Let The Awesome Willpower In
Now that we know why we always fail to finish what we started, and that how our willpower is limited and not that powerful after all, we can adjust ourselves, our ways and our habits to make sure they stay and grow in strength.
Here’s what I did with my course:
1) I put it on hold for a good six months and focused on the other things that I’ve started on. That includes the service to my clients, finishing up my crazy desire of travelling a few other countries in Asia, moving back home to Sydney and writing for PrettyAwesomeFitness.com. Of course I did all of that individually, which explains how I can finish them too.
2) I re-started the course with a new strategy – study each topics in small bits and pieces. Doing it one at a time helped me achieved the bigger goal. I killed the other tributes first before killing the photonic, organic, synthetic, carbonic creature Seneca imposed upon me. Go me!
3) I studied at a time I know I was most productive, in a way I know I’ll get it done. After months of trying, I figured I was most productive just reading through the text instead of taking notes and I studied best after lunch. That’s what I did to get my willpower running.
4) I finished it with a strategy. Yes it did require discipline but I set an expiry date to when I’m going to sit for the exam.
And I’m going to say this again – Boom! I finished it. Did I say with flying colours?
How You Can Be Awesomely Will-powered
Finishing the course and how I manipulated my willpower to not get the best of me took me 14 months. I want you to start working on it today.
1) Do something according to your ability. If you’ve never ever stepped out for a run and suddenly woke up and decide you want to run a marathon in three months, you’re simply killing yourself. If you’ve grown up all your life hating vegetables, don’t try to have a bowl of salad every day for the next seven days. Identify your level and work at building up your experience and momentum.
– If you want to exercise more, start by doing simple bodyweight exercises for ten minutes a day. Even going for a thirty minute run outside can kill your willpower.
– If you want to eat healthier, start by having one less take-away meal a week, or start cooking one meal a week.
– If you want to sleep more, start by getting into bed five minutes earlier for a week or even a month.
The whole point is to find what works for you and stick to it, increasing bit by bit once you know you can.
2) Don’t do too many things at once. If you want to change something, don’t try and pile up 15 habits to try and change. Work at it one at a time. In Leo Baubata’s book Power Of Less, he mentions, “The only way you’ll form long-lasting habits is by applying the Power of Less: focus on one habit at a time, one month at a time, so that you’ll be able to focus all your energy on creating that one habit.” Keep things simple. Don’t confuse yourself.
3) Strategise yourself to finish something that requires the most willpower earlier in the day. And this holds true if it is something that is new to you, like for example, exercise. If you don’t know what time is the best to work out, do it first thing in the morning before life gets in the way. That way you won’t come up with excuses to not do it, which is another separate problem on it’s own. As for myself, I knew I was most productive after lunch with my studies so I held on to that and used it to my advantage.
4) Practise on your willpower following the steps above until it becomes second nature. Your willpower is a limited resource, but once you do it again and again, it will strengthen to an extent that it enters auto-pilot mode. Become a robot. Just keep doing what you’re doing.
But Help! I’ve Totally Ran Out Of Willpower!
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to finish off that 12-week program, or you just can’t seem to stick to eating more veges even if it’s once a week. Here are some hacks that you can introduce in your life to regain some strength and ultimately finish off what you started.
1) Surround yourself with like-minded people. Go to chat groups or message boards. Make friends with those Zumba-fied people who just really love dancing their socks off. Find a buddy that is willing to see you through hard times like these. Set up a competition for who can lose the most weight in a set amount of time. Having the right people with right state of mind as you do feeds your willpower.
2) Read, listen and/or watch anything inspirational and motivational that will help you get through tough times. Richard Branson’s book ‘Screw It, Let’s Do It’ helps for me. What about videos like this. Or this. It’s impossible to not want to finish what you started after watching things like that!
3) Know or make yourself known to people who has done it before. For example, I went up to the PN Online Directory Of Fitness Professionals and there was a list of people who was already certified. It helps even more to know that I have the potential to be the 24th person in the whole of NSW, Australia to be certified once I finish it and the SIXTH person in the whole of Singapore to finish this course successfully. If you’ve got the guts, say hi to those people who has been there, done that and ask them how they got through it.
4) Remind yourself of your final goal and just be awesome. Think again of why you started and keep telling yourself when you feel the power is not in your hands.
How do you manage to finish off what you started?
Do you have any tips on staying strong when you feel that you’re simply running out of willpower?
That’s it from me for today! Stay awesome.