Will Power & Outcomes

“Self-control, known colloquially as willpower, refers to the mental processes that allow people to override any of their thoughts, emotions, or behaviors that compete with their overarching goals.”

I wanted to highlight two points that are part of a sound mental game regardless of your goals. Though a bit long and academic for the average person to sit and read, the research paper (link above) covers theories of self-control and implications to goal-seeking behavior.

Point One

The paper later states, “Without some countervailing reward to offset the increasing aversiveness of work, people will prefer to engage in activities they find more immediately pleasurable.” This is a pleasure-pain principle at work. We seek out pleasure and rewards. If the immediate reward (not working out, eating a juicy hamburger and fries) outweighs a longer term reward (completing a marathon, losing weight) the shorter term reward will win out. Conversely, if the discomfort of an immediate action (working out) is not out-weighed by the longer term goal (staying healthy, finishing that marathon) once again the short term wins out at the expense of long term success and fulfillment.

Example: If performing injury prevention exercises daily (for most runners seen as pain and drudgery) isn’t outweighed by the pleasure or reward of being able to run or race again then the athlete will tend not to continue those exercises. This of course results in the prevalent injury-re-injury cycle for runners.

The message is that the goals we set – the reward we create – must be powerful enough to keep us going in the short term. It is in the short term, right now, right here that we fail and so fail at our longer term goals.

The challenge: Make those immediate pleasures less pleasurable (or even punishing) and the long term ones more pleasurable. Increase the value of your outcome goals. Reinforce the long term pay-offs often. Create systems to curb weak moments. Create a support system to optimize success. Make that short term uncomfortable action more enjoyable. Get creative.

Point Two

Self-talk and our identities are linked to outcomes. Basically, what we tell ourselves impacts our outcomes. One form of our self-talk is what they call noun-verb manipulation: labels (nouns) versus actions to take (verbs). It turns out that our self-labels (I’m a runner.) are more powerful than saying we’ll take some action (I run.). It is better to see ourselves as an athlete than someone trying to come back or do rehab exercises. There is power in taking on the role of our desired state or outcome. If we call ourselves something then we are more likely to behave and take actions that fulfill that label.

The challenge: Accept and identify yourself in the role you aspire to (athlete, runner). You may want to prime the pump and ask yourself ‘what choices do athletes make and what behaviors do athlete exhibit’? You are a marathoner (even if you haven’t completed one – you are training for one). You are a Boston Qualifier. You are a runner (not a jogger). You are an athlete (not just someone who is working out).

Next time someone asks if you workout, tell then you are a runner, a marathoner or triathlete and don’t just say ‘I run’ or ‘I jog some’. Reinforce this as often as you can.

Try it out yourself. See if you notice a difference in your day-to-day behaviors when you manipulate pay-offs and personal labels. Drop me a line on your experience. You never know until you try.

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