Willpower workout 13: Stretching habit-forming muscle

Willpower Workout #13: Stretching Your Habit-Forming Muscles

September 9, 2020

The power of habits is that they make consistency automated or at least mostly automated. The challenge of forming new habits is that you have to get yourself to act consistently before it’s automatic. Forming new habits is incredibly useful in the workplace and in life in general, and we’ve written a fair amount about how to form them, including this longer article.

Some recently have been arguing that habits remove the need for willpower. In a recent article entitled “Why Willpower is Overrated“, Vox says among other things that “people who are good at self-control have learned better habits… and experience fewer temptations.” What they are saying is that you don’t need to rely on internal strength. Just fill your life with habits and carefully design your environment. In his 2018 book, Willpower Doesn’t Work, Benjamin Hardy echoes this point: “No matter how much internal resolve you have, you will fail to change your life if you don’t change your environment.”But consider this: what does it take to change your environment or develop a habit in an area where you would prefer to not?

Creating habits and changing your environment require taking actions. To take any action you need some combination of motivation and willpower. Stanford psychologist BJ Fogg makes this clear in his behavior model. It follows logically that willpower is necessary to initiate the longer-term strategies of habit formation and environment change. So willpower is not only relevant, but it actually enables strategies that reduce the long-term need for willpower.

In today’s workout, we’re going to put our habit-forming ability to the test.

Day 13 Willpower Workout:

  1. At 9am, take your pulse the old-fashioned way: count your pulse over a minute.
  2. Record your pulse in a spreadsheet with the time.
  3. Then do 25 bodyweight squats (i.e., no weight but your own body).
  4. Then take your pulse again.
  5. Record your pulse in a spreadsheet in the same row you used in step 2.
  6. Repeat steps 1-5 every 30 mins (e.g., 9, 9:30, 10)
  7. If you cannot complete this routine during a certain 30-minute increment, do it slightly before the 30-minute mark or as soon after as you can. If you completely miss one 30-minute increment, add it to the end of the day.
  8. Do your last set at 5pm. If you missed any during the day, make them up by continuing at 5:30pm and after as needed.

Evaluating Your Workout:

  1. Did you ever accidentally forget to do the routine?
  2. If so, how did that affect your performance afterward and your feelings about continuing?
  3. How did you remind yourself to do it every 30 minutes?
  4. At what time of day, did you want to stop doing this?
  5. How did you feel about doing this the first time? The 9th time (middle of the day)? The last time?
  6. Did you get sloppy in the taking of your pulse?

Consistency is difficult, especially in the beginning. That is why many books and articles on the topic have gotten so much traction in recent years. This exercise can help you build your habit-forming muscles.

Willpower Workout in Action:

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This is day 13 of a 40-day journey to explore your limits. If you’d like to receive a daily email with the willpower workout of the day, you can sign up here to start at Day 1 with the first workout:

If you’d prefer to jump in where Matt is right now and then make up the other workouts on your own schedule, sign up here:

Past Workouts: