I love ice cream.
It is one of my greatest weaknesses.
I like lots of flavours but my all-time favourite is mint choc chip.
If there is mint choc chip ice cream in the house I can hear it calling my name, constantly!
You know I can remember taking my son Nicholas to the ice cream shop when he was a small boy. I would offer him a taste of different flavours and he would look wide eyed through the glass counter at all the myriad of colours to ultimately decide on vanilla.
It’s still his favourite twenty years later.
Why am I telling you about ice cream?
Well, whilst I love ice cream, the older I get the more ice cream loves me.
It hangs around my mid section, adding to my beer belly far longer than it used to.
I used to be able to lose weight just by thinking about it but it simply isn’t that easy any more.
I’m not cutting it out completely, life is way too short for that.
Working on ways to cut down on ice cream got me thinking about how we change habits, become disciplined.
One of my business partners is incredibly disciplined. He exercises every morning rain, hail or shine and he never eats any more than two squares of chocolate.
I’ve always struggled with discipline at that level. I’ve tried applying will power but my will power voice is drowned out by the ice cream calling my name.
So, how do we change a habit or create discipline when willpower fails us?
The problem with willpower
The problem with willpower is that it is, in my view, a diminishing resource.
We only have so much will power available to us in any given day.
We use some of it to get to work instead of a day at the beach, to be patient with other drivers (or our spouse or children).
Sometimes by the end of the day my willpower is depleted and that’s when the ice cream voice is at her loudest.
Josh Kauffman, author of The Personal MBA says that our ability to use willpower to change behaviour is flawed because it is a depleting resource.
Instead of using willpower to change an actual behaviour, which means it has to be used each and every time, he suggests we use that willpower to create guiding structures to change our environment.
Using that theory, a guiding structure is a behaviour we can build on, a positive and non depleting resource.
As we develop these structures, our environment changes and the behaviour change becomes a natural consequence.
Let’s use this theory to solve my ice cream challenge
If I stick to the will power method every night I am going to have to tap into that will power, depleted after a day working and hope there is enough there to support me.
It’s will be an every day challenge.
Sometimes I will win and sometimes that bowl of mint choc chip will be in my hand before I know it.
I may even consider that a win some days.
If on the other hand I create some guiding structures where I use my willpower to create a new environment then I only need to use that willpower once.
That would mean that when I am at the supermarket I create a structure which excludes ice cream from the shopping list.
Perhaps I may create a structure which changes my environment by buying a small tub initially, or perhaps a single ice cream or I may even move to a healthier alternative such as yoghurt.
By creating this guiding structure I am changing my environment
If ice cream isn’t in my freezer I can’t have it and I won’t need to have that nightly willpower battle.
As time passes I can layer those guiding structures to change the way I shop and the environment I live in.
In that way I have had to use the willpower just once to create the structure and the environment changes as a direct result.
Over time, layered change will bring about a change in habit and behaviour.
The next time you have a habit or some behaviour you would like to change, poly your willpower in a way which changes your environment by creating guiding structures so you don’t have to dip into the willpower bank over and over again.
Good luck, I’m off to do some grocery shopping… and ice cream is not on the list!
Subscribe & don’t miss a single episode of Michael Yardney’s podcast
Hear Michael & a select panel of guest experts discuss property investment, success & money related topics. Subscribe now, whether you're on an Apple or Android handset.
Need help listening to Michael Yardney’s podcast from your phone or tablet?
We have created easy to follow instructions for you whether you're on iPhone / iPad or an Android device.
Prefer to subscribe via email?
Join Michael Yardney's inner circle of daily subscribers and get into the head of Australia's best property investment advisor and a wide team of leading property researchers and commentators.