Recently, I made the transition to a bike commuting lifestyle. While I had often professed a desire to bike to work more often, the modest inconvenience of this deviation usually prompted me to drive. By removing the option for car convenience, I now always bike and am truly happier for it.
My peculiar lifestyle choice has elicited frequent eyebrow raises, perplexingly angry honks from large trucks, and daily question and answer sessions from colleagues mystified by the concept of this particular muscle-fueled transportation. Occasionally I have an interaction like this:
- Colleague: So, you bike to work every day, now?
- Me: Yes.
- Colleague: How far is that?
- Me: About five miles.
- Colleague: Aren’t you cold?
- Me: I bundle up well. The mornings are coldest, but they are truly my favorite part of the day. Usually, within a couple of minutes, I’ve forgotten about the cold and it is just refreshing to be moving outside.
- Colleague: What if it rains?
- Me: I have a waterproof bag with waterproof rain gear in it. I just have to take turns slower.
- Colleague: Man, that’s tough. Very cool. I wish I could do that.
If I only had a nickel for every time I heard variations of the “I wish I could do that” sentiment. Like most committed to a healthy lifestyle, an active approach is a consistent feature of daily life.
I often get comments when I go to a staff meeting and don’t eat the bite-size Snickers littering the table, or I often get asked when I find time to workout, or when I find time to write or meditate, or any of the other million, seemingly bizarre choices that characterize my life.
Our Limiting Personal Narratives
If you wish you could do something, then do it. Too often we know what actions would solve our problems—we see actions and skills that excite our imaginations and reveal a more dynamic existence and we talk ourselves out of them. We come up with excuses that keep us resigned to the patterns of a less fulfilling life:
- I wish I could do that, but I wasn’t blessed with a lot of willpower.
- I just can’t get out of bed.
- I just crave sugar too much.
- I just hate exercise.
- I just always talk myself out of it.
We make believe that these are fixed traits in order to distract from our real power to become a greater version. Our minds and bodies are malleable.
Two victimhood narratives are most destructive to personal empowerment. First is the belief that motivation precedes action. People wait for something to spark. That is rarely the case. Your psychology follows your physiology.
We must act regardless of mood in order to pull ourselves towards the type of actions that bring meaning and fulfillment. There are many ways to prompt desirable action, but inevitably this will require willpower. Which brings me to the second false narrative.
It is true that willpower is very much like a muscle. It grows stronger over time from consistent use and fatigued through use. Many neglect the obvious ramifications of this reality, that we should train willpower each day, and instead use exhausted willpower to excuse their inability to overcome inertia.
Life is busy and any of life’s inevitable challenges can easily be listed to excuse immediate impulsive desires to skip workouts or indulge that sweet tooth. Your willpower is just fatigued. There isn’t anything you can do, right? If you are honest with yourself you know this isn’t the case.
What if you had to work out or you’d die? You would immediately drop into some burpees.
What if you had to or your children would die? Mountain climbers sound nice. In that moment when you make the decision to skip, what if someone offered $1,000 dollars? You’d probably do it for $20.
In fact, you’d probably just do it if everyone else was. We are social animals quite concerned with being normal. If everyone else was doing it you’d bike to work, eat tilapia and veggies for lunch, hit the gym on the way home, and then re-read that Theodore Roosevelt biography so you were more informed for a lunchtime conversation. You skip these more fruitful pursuits because it is easier to skip and there is plenty of social confirmation telling you that indulgence and convenience are normal.
Willpower Is a Self-fulfilling Prophecy
Too many limit themselves by a self-fulfilling prophecy about the limits of their own willpower. How much more would we be capable of if we thought we had absolute responsibility for ourselves? Willpower may fatigue and natural ability may be a factor, but you’ll be far better off if you pretend both are myths.
The truth is that when it comes to feats of will or modest skill, you almost certainly have all the tools and willpower you need. Anytime you feel a desire to do something, take it as a call to become a greater version.
Rather than operating from a position of helplessness where you search for justifications and self-limitations, search for the way. It exists. These are simple actions. Gun to your head, could you find a way?
Ask yourself: Why can’t I do that? What obstacles did they face and have to overcome? What can I change right now?
We must be realistic. There is a limit to what can be done in the short run. However, with a commitment to self-development and dogged insistence upon the power of your own will you can do miraculous things over the long-term.
“Do not be afraid to exaggerate the role of willpower. It is an exaggeration with a purpose. It leads to a positive self-fulfilling dynamic, and that is all you care about.”
Adopt Personal Goals and Challenges
For yourself and your children, you must always have personal goals and challenges. We cannot be our best for the world if we don’t commit to self-development first. You’ll never fully optimize your environment, but your actions are still your responsibility.
This is why our children must have expectations and responsibilities. They must grow willpower on a daily basis. Personal responsibility is the only avenue for sustainable health and a fulfilled life.
If you need help making or sustaining any change, try my free e-book, The Essential Guide to Self-Mastery, complete with a personalized self-mastery training plan.