What Do You Want?
By Joel F. Wade - November 02, 2012

Sometimes we can have a sense that things aren't working well or we'd like something to be different in our lives, and we can try to take steps to change. But without an idea of what isn't working well, what we'd like to have different, or what we would like to change, we can end up wandering aimlessly through life. That's what I'd like to help you to avoid today.

There are three questions that I'd like you to consider (courtesy of Kelly McGonigal, from her book, The Willpower Instinct):

What do you want to do more of or stop putting off?

What do you want to give up or do less of?

What is the most important long-term goal that you'd like to pursue and what short-term desire is most likely to distract you from taking the steps to reach that goal?

I have written about willpower before, of course. It is one of the most important qualities to develop for success and happiness. But there are actually three different applications of willpower, which use three different parts of your brain.

  • You can use your will to stop unwanted behavior or impulses, which uses the right side of your pre-frontal cortex.
  • You can use your will to take action that you want to take, which uses the upper left side of your pre-frontal cortex.
  • You can use your will to know what you want and to keep track of your goals and desires, which uses the lower middle part of your pre-frontal cortex.

You may have some habit or addiction that has been hindering or harming you and you know that in order to be happy you will have to stop that behavior. That is a particular function of the will, which is different from getting yourself to exercise more or to apply yourself more at work or to decide what you want to accomplish long term.

All three of these functions of the will are important in different ways. What I'd like to encourage you to do today is to identify one quality or behavior from each category that you'd like to change or improve on.

Do you have a bad habit or occasional behavior that causes you trouble? This could be anything from smoking or substance abuse, to distraction, to being grumpy with your kids, to ignoring your husband or wife. Anything that you know is not good for you, yet you find yourself doing anyway; anything that you wish were different but as the path is well worn, it takes energy and consciousness to stop.

That requires using your will to stop that behavior, which can include arranging your lifestyle so that such behavior is more difficult to do – removing all cigarettes from the house and cars, reminding yourself what kind of relationship you want with your kids before you interact with them.

Do you have a good habit that you'd like to establish, like exercising, or getting work in on time? That requires using your will to make something happen that you were not doing before. Having incentives and accountability can help – exercising together with friends (who will give you a playfully hard time if you don't show up), for example.

Do you have things that you want to accomplish? That requires using your will to envision goals and to plan steps that you need to take in order to achieve those goals.

Your mission this week is to find one thing from each category: Find one behavior that you want to stop doing, through which in the stopping your life will improve, find one behavior that you want to start doing, through which in the doing your life will improve, and find one goal that you want to begin to work toward.

Define these clearly for yourself and then you can begin to look at what to do to bring these changes about. I'll have more to say about that next week.

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