My guest today is kind of like Socrates.
They said that Socrates was the wisest man in ancient Greece because he knew that his wisdom was incomplete.
There is great truth in this, and Colin Robertson from Willpowered is a patient researcher of all that concerns willpower, and how to strengthen it. He knows that there is always more to learn, that there are people out there who claim to know more than they actually do, and that there is a science to the willpower game.
We’re going to cover all this and more, and it is my absolute pleasure to bring this incredible research into your field of awareness. There is strength and power in the interview to come.
So stick with us, and we will make you into a modern-day Spartan.
MK: Colin, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with my readers and I today. I know they appreciate it as much as I do.
First off, I would love for you to lay out the case for taking a scientific approach to all of our willpower concerns. I believe that it’s not something you can approach haphazardly and still expect earth-shattering results. Being intentional is what counts here, I think. Can you tell us why?
CR: I believe willpower is one of the most important, yet misunderstood concepts for people. We all expect that we can get big results, fast, if we can just summon the willpower to do it. So we try to wake up earlier, exercise, eat right, and become more productive all at the same time. And when we inevitably aren’t able to add all of those habits to our lives at once, we feel like failures.
Taking the scientific approach helps you understand why you can’t overload yourself with all of those changes in behavior. Also, it helps you understand what you can change.
MK: It’s pretty clear that you can spend a lot of time on theory, and still not make any progress out in the real world. I’m thinking of the people who read all the self-help books and never dust off that all-important gym membership. So how do you make the leap? What catapults someone into action and keeps them there?
CR: I couldn’t agree with you more, Matt. And I think the best way to “make the leap” is to set process-oriented, not results-oriented, goals.
The typical script is someone will pick up a self-help book, become inspired, set big goals, work on them for a while, then hit the boring middle of the journey when their inspiration wears off, then get demotivated by just how far they are from reaching their goal, then quit.
That’s what happens when you set results-oriented goals. Instead, you should use a big goal to set your direction, but then forget about it. Instead, you should focus on the process that it will take to get there.
To use an example, I recently finished writing my book, The Will of Heroes; it was a huge research and writing project that took me several years. But I didn’t set the goal to “finish The Will of Heroes by X date”.
I used the overall goal of writing the book to set my direction, but then I simply focused on writing 1,000 words per day. It still took a LONG time, but because I set that process-oriented goal, every day I made progress. And eventually, those words added up to a full-length book.
MK: By the way, The Will of Heroes just made my reading list. I’ll be getting to it fairly soon! Anyone who would like a copy can go here.
Seth Godin has written an entire book about that boring, middle part of the journey, called “The Dip”, which I highly recommend. It’s all about when and how to quit, and how to keep going.
But let’s get back to our discussion…
What are they key result areas when it comes to developing discipline? In my experience, there are things that are primary that you have to get right first, and which will make all the other stuff easier. What are those things for you?
CR: The most effective in my opinion is maintaining the proper perspective. You will use less willpower to work towards your goals if you see that work as an opportunity, rather than an obligation.
Similarly, you will use less willpower to resist unhealthy food if you see yourself as a healthy person, it will be easier to go for a run if you see yourself as an athlete, etc.
If you have trouble changing your perspective, a simple trick is to say “I get to” rather than “I have to”. When you wake up in the morning say “I get to go to work today”, instead of “I have to go to work today”.
When 5pm strikes, say “I get to go to the gym today”, rather than “I have to go to the gym today”
Simply by saying that, your brain starts to see all of the great things associated with working toward your goals. You get to go to work and earn the lifestyle you enjoy. You get to go to the gym and feel great about yourself afterwards.
If you can keep the right perspective, all of your challenges will be easier.
MK: You know, I’m completely enamored with that perspective, and I can personally attest that it makes a lot of things much easier. There are two amazing books that I MUST bring up, because I think it ties in perfectly with what you’re saying.
The first, is “Psycho-Cvbernetics”, by Maxwell Maltz. He was a plastic surgeon who saw that people’s self image was a much larger determinant of their outlook than any surgery he could perform.
If a patient of his left the operating room looking great, yet still feeling inferior on the inside, the surgery would be less effective.
As it relates to our discussion, I SEE myself as a very disciplined person. That’s my self image, and that’s what I teach others. So, consequently, it’s much easier for me to maintain my disciplined lifestyle.
The second book is one of the most important books ever written in the history of mankind. But hey, I don’t want to oversell it…
Viktor Frankl was a holocaust survivor and a psychiatrist, and he wrote the book “Man’s Search for Meaning”. After spending several years living in 4 different concentration camps during World War 2, he asserted that the last of the human freedoms is the ability to choose one’s own attitude in any given set of circumstances. As he put it, to choose one’s own way.
This is huge for willpower. Your attitude can move mountains for you, and Frankl’s attitude helped him outlast the gas chambers.
But hey, let’s lighten this up a bit…Who first lit up the path for you with respect to learning more about the science of willpower? Who showed you that this was a path worth pursuing?
CR: To be honest, it was a combination of a lot of people. Reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg was my first exposure to the science of willpower. After which, I read everything I could on the subject, so he certainly deserves a lot of credit.
But I would say that my greatest inspiration for being where I am today is Jim Collins – author of Good to Great. I saw him do a speech where he talks about how to find your life’s work. And he says it’s at the intersection of 3 areas.
- What you are deeply passionate about
- What someone will actually pay you for
- What you can be the best in the world at
After seeing that – plus a lot of soul searching – I realized that I have a deep passion for the science of willpower, I’m great at teaching people boring science information in simple terms to help them grasp it, and I’m willing to dedicate myself to working every day to become the best in the world with willpower.
After that, the path was set for me.
MK: Race you to the top of the willpower world! Even though Kelly McGonigal has a bit of a head start on both of us! It’s a great line of work to be in, and I’m a huge supporter of you, and anyone else who wants to improve the lives of others through their work.
So tell me, do you still hold people up as role models in your day-to-day life? Some might say that I have too many, but I have a role model for every important area in my life, and sometimes 2 or 3.
CR: Absolutely! That’s why I wrote The Will of Heroes. Every one of them is a role model to me for a different reason. Going back to perspective, you can gain enormous willpower by seeing through your role model’s eyes.
For example, whenever I feel down about my ability as a writer, I simply look to the story of JK Rowling, Who at the age of 28 was a single mother living in poverty with nothing but a dream of sharing her story of Harry Potter with the world. If she could make it through that, I can make it through my struggles as well.
MK: Great to hear. It’s not your fault where you start, but you’re responsible for where you end up.
Can you point out some devastatingly bad advice when it comes to willpower? No need to mention names; just tell us what we should avoid doing at all costs.
CR: Boy are there a lot out there. But if I had to choose 1, it would be the power of positive thinking.
I go into full detail about how positive thinking can hurt you in this article, but I will try to sum it up the best I can.
The belief about positive thinking is that if you visualize success, you will slowly but surely begin attaining it in real life. This is called The Law of Attraction.
But in an ingenious experiment, Gabrielle Oettingen had a group of participants come into the laboratory in a dehydrated state. They made each participant sit a room for an extended period of time by themselves.
One group of participants was to sit there patiently waiting, while the second group was to visualize themselves drinking an ice cold glass of water.
It was amazing how the brains of those in the second group reacted to the visualization of it! The bodily reaction of each participant acted as if he or she had indeed drank a glass of water.
So which group of participants do you think worked harder to get an actual glass of water – the ones who felt like they’ve already drank one? Or the ones who are still dehydrated?
Exactly. The ones who visualized drinking the water, didn’t need to work for it! Oettingen’s conclusion, therefore, was that positive thinking does indeed make you believe that you are already in possession of the thing you want. So why bother working for it?
Now, this is not to say that you shouldn’t think positively. In order to achieve great things, you need to genuinely believe that great things are possible. But rather than sitting around visualizing success, you should be out there earning it.
I call this the power of positive action. The best thing you can do to think more positively is to prove that you can achieve success through working hard and achieving small wins.
MK: I LOVE that answer. I’m going to suggest that all my readers read through those last few lines again.
I believe that there’s some value in thinking positively, and that you definitely should believe that good things are on their way to you, but no way should you ever think that you don’t have to work.
And it’s true that people who are overconfident about their level of willpower often put themselves into situations where their willpower is tested more severely, ultimately leading to their demise. Something to be aware of.
Alright, I’m going to ask you for a few Top-5 lists. Here they are:
*Top five books dealing with willpower and self control?
*Top five people to watch in the self-discipline space?
*Top five challenges for most people getting started in improving their willpower?
- Embracing boredom
- Resisting procrastination
- Figuring out what is worth using their willpower for
*Top five things people can do in 5 minutes to increase their willpower?
- Say “get to” instead of “have to” – “I get to go to the gym today”
- Say “I don’t” instead of “I can’t” – “I don’t eat dessert.”
- Find a purpose worth fighting for
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MK: When should a person decide to seek outside help for their willpower challenges?
CR: If they’re caught in a cycle of never reaching their goals. Sometimes it just takes an outsider’s perspective to see the simple things that someone might be doing wrong.
MK: I wonder if it’s shameless to mention in my own interview that I take on clients and help them smash through their own willpower challenges. If you end up working with me, you won’t pay me. Instead, you’ll be asked to make a donation to Doctors Without Borders in exchange for my services. You can go here if interested.
So, having said that…
How does a person avoid charlatans? The self-help industry seems to attract some of the sleaziest, least-knowledgeable people. There must be a way, or ways, for people to see through that!
CR: I despise those people. They prey on people who are trying to make positive changes in their lives.
To me, the answer is science. Proven techniques, based on proven experiments. That’s why I cite all of my articles with the scientific sources I use. I hope to show people that I’m not just giving my opinions; I’ve done the research and these are the answers.
MK: That’s incredible, and if I wore hats, mine would be off to you. We don’t need people giving our profession a bad name by leading people into dead ends. That’s partly why I went 100% non-profit with Godlike Discipline. Like you, I want to help people.
There are people out there with no place to sleep tonight, with family members who will starve to death soon, and who will become the victims of hatred worldwide. Faced with these realities, I’m not sure any of them would care what our body-fat percentages are, or what kind of cars we drive.
I’m glad to be able to say that you and I are part of the answer, and that our readers can trust us to guide them to where they want to go.
So, what’s next for Willpowered? Have you set any specific goals for where you want to take your business?
CR: Launching The Will of Heroes is the main target of the company right now.
After it is out there and marketed correctly, I plan to move onto researching willpower in child-development. I believe the “self-esteem era” has poorly impacted a generation of kids who expect results without having to earn them. So I want to counteract that movement to create the “self-control era”.
MK: My hat, the one I’m no longer wearing, is again off to you. And you’re so right! It’s interesting to note that bullying doesn’t come from the bullies having low self-esteem, but too MUCH self-esteem. Then, when their inflated self-worth clashes against reality, as it inevitably will, it results in animosity towards other children. So much wasted effort!
What’s your plan for continuing your own education? I’m 100% positive that you’re not satisfied with your current level of learning. I’m sure as hell not satisfied with my own!
CR: This is a great question. We live in a marvelous time where education is really reinventing itself. There is so much information available online and books, courses, etc. are so much easier and cheaper to access.
After I realized that performance psychology was what I wanted to do with my life, I went back to school to get my PhD. But after 4 courses I realized that I had already read all of the scientific studies we were going over. So I was spending $30,000/year to learn things I already knew.
So I bought access to a library of scientific studies and I’ve simply been conducting my own education. I plan to do that for as long as possible. If you have the willpower to learn on your own, why not?
MK: Is there anything else that you’d like to add? I’m always afraid of not asking the right questions and leaving some valuable insights on the table. So please tell me if you feel I’ve left out something important.
CR: We’ve certainly covered a lot, but I believe if I were to sum it all up, I think the #1 rule of willpower is to dream big, but start small, and have patience. Focus your willpower on simply making progress. It doesn’t matter how many steps it takes you to get to your destination, just make sure all of them are in the right direction.
MK: Colin, I want to really thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I know my readers will definitely be able to learn quite a bit from you, what you’ve accomplished, and what you stand for. I’m honored to have you as a guest at Godlike Discipline.
Also…as tangible evidence of my appreciation, I have made a $50 donation on your behalf to Doctors Without Borders, the non-profit that I raise the most money for with this site.
Here is our campaign: GodlikeDiscipline.com Supports MSF
They operate in 70 countries providing disaster relief, emergency medical supplies, medical training, and a lot more. The organization received a Nobel Prize for their work, and currently have attained the highest possible ranking on Charity Navigator.
Thanks again, and you’re encouraged to come back to Godlike Discipline any time!
CR: Thanks Matt!
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Matt Karamazov is a mentor, boxer, and human rights activist who reads 200 books per year and throws 300 punches per minute. The website, Godlike Discipline, is his most deeply felt project, dedicated to raising money for causes like Doctors Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch, among others. It’s also dedicated to helping people tackle their biggest willpower challenges. He also like death metal, and so, consequently doesn’t get many second dates. Here he is on a horse.