To live in harmony with your goals, you sometimes need to apply willpower. But you cannot use your willpower unless you first are aware, and you cannot be aware if you are too busy or living on autopilot without any pause.
This page covers Step 2, which is to be aware of your options and drives.
Awareness of Your Options
Every decision we make can take us a step toward our goals or a step away from them. To practice self-discipline, we need to be aware of this, and decide accordingly.
The simplest way to enhance this awareness is to label every option as either +1 (a step forward) or -1 (a step away) and to check our balance at the end of the day. It’s best to put it in writing, using a notebook, a spreadsheet, a notetaking app—whatever you like. You can also use the Mindful Self-Discipline tracking app, or the Chrome plugin.
Here is a sample day, for the aspiration “to be healthy and full of energy”:
- Hit snooze when alarm rang (-1)
- Took cold shower (+1)
- Skipped breakfast, since I’m doing intermittent fasting (+1)
- Strong urge for sweets so bought donuts for dessert after lunch (-1)
- Sleepy, so got some extra coffee (-1)
- Salad for lunch (+1)
- Half hour of cardio at gym (+1)
- Smoothie for dinner (+1)
- Daily balance: +2
This simple way of tracking the benefits and consequences each decision develops greater awareness about your choices, and helps you keep your goals top of mind. This is part of the awareness practice of reflection. Over time, this practice of awareness will spread throughout your day, and the compound effect of this small practice will be huge. Your aspirations and values truly become the compass for your decisions.
At the end of your day, add up and review. If your points-balance is positive, that’s great—feel grateful toward yourself. If it is not, learn what you can (without shame or guilt), and make a plan to do better the following day.
We make hundreds of decisions every day, and we can’t pause for each one. It’s enough to practice this awareness on a dozen or so key daily decisions.
This technique can be nuanced by choosing different weights for different behaviors, although this added complexity isn’t necessary and may slow down the process. Finally, if you want to take this to a whole new level and become a Willpower Jedi, then do that with your thoughts as well: +1 when they are positive/empowering, -1 when negative/limiting.
Awareness of your Drives
You may know what is your best option, and still something inside of you is pulling you to do something else. Therefore, you need to also develop awareness of your drives—which are the psychological forces at play inside you. Become aware of the parts of you that are conflicting with your goals.
Here are some questions to help:
1. What stories am I telling myself?
2. What emotions are here?
3. What urges am I feeling?
Becoming aware of these psychological forces is an important step in better managing them.
Sometimes, practicing pausing and awareness will already be enough to bring you back to your center, and allow you to act in harmony with your goals. The +1 decision becomes clearer and easier. Other times, however, you will need to apply your willpower to intentionally shift your state.