4/28/11

The Belief That’s Sabotaging Your Career

We are all impressed by demonstrations of ability.  Pro athletes, computer whizzes, math geniuses, bold entrepreneurs, accomplished musicians, gifted writers… these people are widely-held in admiration, because we appreciate their extraordinary aptitudes.  And we envy them a little, too.  You’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t wish that they were a little smarter, a little more creative, a bit better at communicating, or perhaps more socially skilled.

So you would think being told that, due to practice and learning, you have gotten smarter (or more creative, eloquent, or charming) would be welcome news.  Don’t we all want to improve?  And aren’t we all happy when we do?  Yes…. and no.

For many of us, improvement - while objectively a good thing - is also, often unconsciously, anxiety-provoking. 

That’s because we believe it shouldn’t be possible.  

Dozens of studies by Carol Dweck and her colleagues have shown that roughly half of us subscribe to the belief that our abilities are fixed.  These so-called entity theorists expect their performance to be relatively stable – in other words, you have just so much intelligence (or creativity, or charm), and there isn’t anything you can do about it.  Incremental theorists, on the other hand, believe that ability is malleable – that it can and does change with effort and experience.

 So what happens when an entity theorist who thinks his intelligence is fixed finds out that he has, in fact, gotten smarter?  A recent set of studies by Jason Plaks and Kristin Stecher provides the answer:  It freaks him out.

In their studies, college students were given difficult reasoning problems, and after the first round, everyone received feedback that they had performed at the 61st percentile.  Next, all of the students were given a lesson on how to approach solving the problems, including tips and strategies.  After a second round of problems, some students were told that their performance had not changed, while others were told that it had improved to the 91st percentile.  

Not surprisingly, everyone who improved was happy to have done so – but entity theorists, believing that they really shouldn’t have improved,  also reported significant increases in anxiety.  The more anxiety they felt, the worse they performed on a third set of problems that followed. 
In fact, entity theorists who were told that they didn’t improve did better on the third set then those who were told that they did!

So when we don’t expect to improve, does this mean we actually prefer not  to improve?  I wouldn’t go that far.  Everyone welcomes improvement, but only for entity theorists does that improvement come with anxiety.   That anxiety, in turn, undermines future performance - eroding our confidence that improvement was ever actually real.

Looking back, these studies have given me some insight into some episodes in my own life.  For instance, take my experience with billiards.  I freely admit that I am a terrible pool player.  I played a few times in college and it was a sorry sight.  I wrote the game off quickly, believing that I just didn’t have the hand-eye coordination to ever be any good at it. (I should mention that I had a long track record of lacking hand-eye coordination.  When my brother tried to teach me to catch a ball in our backyard when I was 10, I caught it with my face and broke my nose. )

Years ago I dated an avid pool player, who convinced me one night at our neighborhood bar to give the game another chance.  Before beginning, he gave me a brief lesson – how to hold the cue, how to line up a shot, etc.  We played, and something totally unexpected happened – I played well.  In fact, I came awfully close to beating him.  And I remember feeling both elated that I had improved, and completely freaked out.  Did I really improve?  How was that possible?  I’m not good at this sort of thing.  Maybe it was a fluke. 

A few days later we played again, and I approached the table with a nervousness I hadn’t felt before, even when I thought I’d play terribly.  What would happen?  I had no idea.  And that nervousness wreaked havoc on my ability to play – I couldn’t sink a ball to save my life.  I knew it was a fluke, I thought.   I’m definitely not good at this sort of thing.

Granted, we’re talking about playing pool here, and I realize that it’s not a skill that usually has life-altering consequences.  But what if it was?  What if instead of writing off my pool-playing ability, I had written off my ability to do math, learn to use complex computer programs, write well, be creative, embrace risk, give compelling presentations, or become more socially skilled?  What if I believed that I couldn’t improve when it came to something that really mattered?

The bottom line is, no matter what kind of learning opportunities you are given, you probably aren’t going to see lasting improvement if deep down, you don’t believe improvement is possible.  Believing that your ability is fixed is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the self-doubt it creates will sabotage you in the end. 

To be successful and truly make the most of your potential, it’s critical to examine your beliefs, and when necessary, challenge them.   Change really is always possible, and the science here is crystal-clear – there is no ability that can’t be developed with experience.   The next time you find yourself thinking, “But I’m just not good at this,” remember:  You’re just not good at it yet.

J. Plaks & K. Stecher (2007) Unexpected improvement, decline, and stasis: A prediction confidence perspective on achievement success and failure.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 667-684.

4/24/11

What it Means to Be Happy Changes As Employees Age

I am nearly 40 years old.  I spent last Saturday night at home, in a t-shirt and pajama pants, rereading a favorite novel and listening to the sounds of my husband and children playing video games in the next room.   It was wonderful.

If you could have talked to my 20 year old self, and described this evening that awaited her 20 years into her future, she would be have been utterly devastated to learn that her life turned out to be so…. boring.  That a Saturday night spent reading a book  - not even a new book – would qualify as great time.  “What the hell happens to me?” she would wonder.

The answer, of course, is that she grows up.  Along the way, what it means to be “happy” slowly evolves into something completely different from her youthful idea of happiness.  And she is not alone.

In a recent set of studies, psychologists Cassie Mogliner, Sepandar Kamvar, and Jennifer Aaker looked at how people’s experience of happiness changes with age.  They examined twelve million personal blogs, to see what kinds of emotions the bloggers mentioned when they talked about feeling “happy.”

They found that younger bloggers described experiences of happiness as being times when they felt excited, ecstatic, or elated.  (20-year old Heidi, and your younger employees, would completely agree.  Happiness for the young is all about anticipating the joys of new accomplishments -  finding love, getting ahead at work, and buying your first home). 

Older bloggers were more inclined to describe happy experiences as moments of feeling peaceful, relaxed, calm, or relieved.  As we grow older, we find that happiness becomes more and more about fulfilling your responsibilities well and hanging on to what you’ve already got – working things out with your spouse, staying healthy, and being able to make your mortgage payments.

The researchers argue that this change from seeking excitement to seeking peacefulness has to do with being becoming increasingly focused on the present, as opposed to the future.  Because younger people feel they have their whole lives ahead of them, they seek novelty and feel capable of anything.  When time feels more limited, we focus instead on seeking contentment in our current circumstances.

Another way to think of this change is as a gradual shifting from the promotion mindset (i.e., seeing your goals in terms of what you can gain) to the prevention mindset (i.e., seeing your goals in terms of avoiding loss.)  In previous posts, and in my new book Succeed, I’ve described how these two ways of looking at your goals create different motivations, and lead to very different strengths and weaknesses (e.g., creativity, innovation, speed, and embracing risk vs. thoroughness, accuracy, persistence, and careful planning).

If you want to understand how to best motivate your employees, both young and old, it’s essential to keep these differences in mind.  Younger people are more promotion-minded, and are drawn to opportunity (though their eagerness can sometimes to lead recklessness). They are more likely to value the possibility for growth, advancement, and creative expression at least as much as their monetary compensation. 

More prevention-minded older employees, on the other hand, are looking for a safe bet.  They’re highly motivated to perform well, avoid mistakes, and will work hard to protect what they’ve earned.  Expect them to think more about their job security, and to care more about having the tools in place to enable them to do the work right.

4/20/11

Why Letting Yourself Make Mistakes Means Making Fewer of Them

Think back to the last time your boss assigned you a new project or task at work, or the last time you tried to tackle something really difficult in your personal life. How did it feel? I'm guessing scary, right?

While some people seem eager to tackle new challenges, many of us are really just trying to survive without committing any major screw-ups. Taking on something totally new and unfamiliar is understandably frightening, since the odds of making a mistake are good when you are inexperienced. Small wonder that we greet new challenges with so little enthusiasm.

How can we learn to see things differently? How can we shift our thinking, and approach new responsibilities and challenges with more confidence and energy?

The answer is simple, though perhaps a little surprising: Give yourself permission to screw up. Start any new project by saying, "I'm not going to be good at this right away, I'm going to make mistakes, and that's okay."

So now you're probably thinking, "If I take your advice and actually let myself screw up, there will be consequences. I'm going to pay for it." Fair enough. But you really needn't worry about that, because studies show that when people are allowed to make mistakes, they are significantly less likely to actually make them! Let me explain.

We approach most of what we do with one of two types of goals: what I call "be-good" goals, where the focus is on proving that you have a lot of ability and already know what you're doing, and "get-better" goals, where the focus is on developing your ability and learning a new skill. It's the difference between wanting to show that you are smart vs. wanting to get smarter.

The problem with "be-good" goals is that they tend to backfire when things get hard. We quickly start to doubt our ability ("Oh no, maybe I'm not good at this!"), and this creates a lot of anxiety. Ironically, worrying about your ability makes you much more likely to ultimately fail. Countless studies have shown that nothing interferes with your performance quite like anxiety does; it is the goal-killer.

"Get-better" goals, on the other hand, are practically bullet-proof. When we think about what we are doing in terms of learning and improving, accepting that we may make some mistakes along the way, we stay motivated despite the setbacks that might occur.

Just to give you an example, in one study I conducted a few years ago with my graduate student, Laura Gelety, we found that people who were trying to be good (i.e., those who were trying to show how smart they were) performed very poorly on a test of problem-solving when we made the test more difficult (either by interrupting them frequently while they were working, or by throwing in a few additional unsolvable problems).

The amazing thing was, the people who were trying to get better (i.e., those who saw the test as an opportunity to learn a new problem-solving skill) were completely unaffected by any of our dirty tricks. No matter how hard we made it for them, students focused on getting better stayed motivated and did well.

Too often, when the boss gives us an assignment, we expect to be able to do the work flawlessly, no matter how challenging it might be. The focus is all about being good, and the prospect becomes terrifying. Even when we are assigning ourselves a new task, we take the same approach, expecting way too much too soon.

Alina Tugend, in her excellent new book "Better by Mistake," illustrates through fascinating examples how the expectation of perfection -- in business, in the practice of medicine, even in aviation -- has been a direct contributor to catastrophic failures. Expecting perfection in your own life, she explains, is a recipe for self-sabotage.

The irony, you see, is that all this pressure to be good results in many more mistakes, and far inferior performance, than would a focus on getting better. Mistakes, as Tugend points out, should be thought of as something to manage and learn from, rather than something to eliminate (because the latter is more or less impossible). "We should strive to do our best," she writes, "but if the prize is ever elusive perfection, then the fear of failure will too often overshadow the willingness to experiment, take risks, and challenge ourselves."

How can you reframe your goals in terms of getting better? Here are the three steps:

  1. Start by embracing the fact that when something is difficult and unfamiliar, you will need some time to really get a handle on it. You may make some mistakes, and that's OK.
  2. Remember to ask for help when you run into trouble. Needing help doesn't mean you aren't capable -- in fact, only the very foolish believe they can do everything on their own.
  3. Try not to compare yourself to other people -- instead, compare your performance today to your performance yesterday. Focusing on getting better means always thinking in terms of progress, not perfection.

Getting Your Risk-Averse Boss to Take a Chance On Your Ideas

This is a guest post I wrote for the excellent thoughtLEADERS Blog: 

A good friend of mine, “Tom,” recently brought a product to his boss’s attention that would allow his company to take its social media efforts to a whole new level, and might significantly improve their image.  It would be an industry first, and not entirely without risk, but with huge potential payoff.
After hearing his pitch, his boss asked, “Are any of our competitors using this?”

“No,” Tom replied, feeling that this was a strong selling point – a competitive edge.

“Well,” his boss responded,  “then I don’t think we want to stick our necks out and be the first, do we?”

Huh?

Tom was disappointed, but not at all surprised.  For every manager out there trying to encourage innovation, there seem to be ten standing squarely in the way of it.  I spend a lot of time talking to people about motivation and growth, and everywhere I go, I hear complaints like:

I just can’t get my boss to take the risk.
There’s a huge opportunity here, and we’re missing it.
We just follow trends, we don’t ever create them.

It’s incredibly frustrating to know you have a real winner of an idea on your hands, something that could really shake things up, and not be able to get it past your Nervous Nelly of a boss.  Not that the cautious, conservative approach doesn’t have its place - but ultimately an organization cannot grow without embracing some risk.

(The recent recession has only made matters worse.  People don’t want to rock the boat at a time when jobs are hard to find.  Unfortunately, they forget that without organizational innovation and growth, no job is safe for long.) 

The problem, in a nutshell, is this:  when they make decisions, many managers focus much more on what they have to lose than what they might gain

When we see our goals in terms of what we have to lose, we have what psychologists call a prevention focus.  Prevention focus is about security, avoiding mistakes, fulfilling responsibilities, and doing you feel you ought to do.  It’s about trying to hang on to what you’ve got, and it isn’t at all conducive to taking chances.

On the other hand, when we see our goals in terms of what we could gain, we have what’s called a promotion focus. Promotion focus is about achievement and accomplishment, maximizing your potential, and doing what you’d ideally like to do.  It’s about never missing an opportunity if you can help it.

In my book Succeed, I describe research showing that while promotion and prevention-focused people can be equally successful, they work very differently to reach their goals.  They use different strategies, have different strengths, and are prone to different kinds of mistakes.  One group is motivated by applause, the other by criticism and self-sacrifice.  One group readily embraces creativity and risk, while the other prefers careful deliberation and the status quo. 

So, how can you get your overly cautious boss to go out on a limb and embrace a great, albeit risky, idea?  The key is to stop fighting his or her prevention-focused mindset, and work with it instead
In the end, it’s all about language.  You may be thinking of your great idea as an opportunity for gain, but you can always reframe it as an opportunity for avoiding loss.  To persuade a prevention-minded person, you want to emphasize how a course of action can keep your company safe and secure - how it will help you to avoid making a terrible mistake. 

For instance, you may be thinking of a new social media venture as a chance to get in front of the pack, but your boss might be more persuaded if you phrased it as a way to not fall behind.  (“Everyone is moving in this direction.  It’s inevitable.  We could lose market share if aren’t prepared for the future.”)

In general, it’s important to frame your pitch in a way that is persuasive to the kind of person you’re talking to.  Figure out if the decision-maker is promotion or prevention minded, and pitch accordingly.  Remember that even the most timid, prevention-minded person will gladly take a risk, once you help him understand why it would be a greater risk not to.

4/8/11

3 Strategies to Stop Proscrastinating. No, Really – These Work.

Did you ever find yourself facing an important assignment, but somehow you just couldn’t get yourself motivated to start working on it? Time goes by, days turn into weeks, but you don’t seem to be any closer to getting the job done? You are hardly alone. We all know what it’s like to procrastinate - and for some of us, it’s become something of a way of life.

But procrastination comes at a great cost: it leads to poor performance, inefficiency, anxiety, and regret. So if you find yourself having trouble getting started, try using these scientifically-proven strategies to give yourself a much-needed kick in the pants.

Stop Relying On Willpower


Too often, we try to tackle the problem of procrastinating through sheer will: Next time, I will make myself start working on this sooner. Of course, if we actually had the willpower to do that, we would never have procrastinated in the first place. Studies show that people routinely overestimate their capacity for self-control, and rely on it too often to keep them out of hot water.

Make peace with the fact that your willpower is limited, and that it may not always be up to the challenge of getting you to do things you find difficult, tedious, or anxiety-provoking. Instead, use if-then planning to get the job done.

Making an if-then plan is more than just deciding what specific steps you need to take to complete a project – it’s also deciding where and when you will take them.

If I have not heard back from HR by the end of the day, then I will call them at 9am tomorrow morning.


If it is 2pm, then I will stop what I’m doing and start work on the report Bob asked for.


If my boss doesn’t mention my request for a raise at our meeting, then I will bring it up again before the meeting ends.

By deciding in advance exactly what you’re going to do, and when and where you’re going to do it, using these plans dramatically reduces the demands placed on your willpower. If-then planning has been shown in over 100 studies to be uniquely useful when it comes to resisting temptation and building good habits, increasing rates of goal attainment by 200%-300% on average.

Scare Your Pants Off


There is more than one way to look at the same goal. For some people, doing their jobs well is about achievement and accomplishment – they have what psychologists call a promotion focus. In the language of economics, promotion focus is about maximizing gains and avoiding missed opportunities.

For others, doing a job well is about security, about not losing the positions they have worked so hard for. This prevention focus places the emphasis on avoiding danger, fulfilling responsibilities, and doing what you feel you ought to do. In economic terms, it’s about minimizing losses, trying to hang on to what you’ve got.

It turns out, another great way to avoid procrastination is to adopt a prevention focus about the project you are working on. Studies show that prevention-minded people almost never procrastinate – it keeps them awake at night, terrified of the consequences of slacking off. When you are focused on avoiding loss, it becomes clear that the only way to get out of danger is to take immediate action.

I know this won’t sound like a lot of fun, particularly if you are usually more the promotion-minded type, but there is probably no better way to stop dawdling than to give some serious thought to all the dire consequences of potential failure. If procrastination is your problem, try thinking about everything you will lose if you don’t succeed. I realize that’s an unpleasant thing to do, but great achievement does come with a price.


Don’t Label Yourself “Procrastinator”


Never underestimate the power of labeling. Countless studies have shown that once a person is given a trait label like “generous,” “shy” or “creative,” they begin behaving in a manner consistent with that label – even if they have rarely done so in the past. Tell a typically reserved person that a test has scored them high on “extroversion,” and just watch them start talking up a storm, without even realizing that their behavior has changed. When we are given a label, we tend to believe it.

So once you’ve decided you are “a procrastinator,” your brain, on an unconscious level, will believe you. And unconsciously, you will act accordingly. Like any other self-fulfilling prophecy, you will keep on procrastinating to conform to the identity you’ve given yourself.

So stop buying into the idea that you are “a procrastinator,” and there’s nothing you can do about it. Procrastinating is something you do, not something you are. Rejecting the label is the first step to ridding yourself of the behavior once and for all.

Many Heads Can Be Better Than One... If They Belong to Women

In the modern workplace, almost all work of real consequence is carried about by small teams.   But even when very smart, very talented people are assigned to work together on a project, it’s clear that the resulting team can be a complete disaster.   Sometimes it seems like teamwork can turn otherwise competent people into childish morons.  Would we be better off relying less on teams, and more on individuals going at it alone?
Not necessarily.  Teams can be smarter and more effective than the individuals who make up the team – the whole can indeed be bigger and better than just the sum of its parts, but only under the right circumstances. 
A new study conducted by researchers at MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Union College shows that the collective intelligence of a small group working together uniquely predicts their performance across a wide variety of tasks.  In the study, nearly 700 people were placed in groups of 2 to 5, and their ability to solve problems as a team was found to strongly predict their subsequent success on tasks as diverse as visual puzzles, games, negotiations, and logical analysis. 
The average intelligence of members (measured individually, rather than as a group) did not predict team performance at all, and that’s really important. In other words, simply having a couple of really smart people in the group didn’t necessarily make the group itself any smarter.
It turns out that the collective intelligence of the team will only meet or exceed its individual potential if the right kind of internal dynamics are in place.  The researchers found that what is needed for a group to be “smart” is effective coordination and communication, and that this is most likely to be the present in groups with members who were more socially sensitive
When groups contained people who were particularly skilled when it comes to perceiving and responding to others’ emotions, they demonstrated greater collective intelligence, and superior performance again and again.  Not surprisingly, groups where one person dominated in conversation and decision-making were collectively less intelligent, and less effective.
So, how can you ensure that your team will be socially sensitive?  The answer is simple: Add more women.  Teams in the study that contained more women were significantly more socially sensitive, and consequently more intelligent, than the male-dominated teams.
If you don’t have the power to change the gender makeup of your teams, fear not.  Their collective intelligence can still develop and improve – through better, more sensitive means of working together, or better collaboration tools.  Create opportunities for team members to express their feelings, and for others to respond to them.   Encourage face-time whenever possible (emotions are difficult to read on the phone, and nearly impossible over email).  Cultivating a work environment  where team members experiences are acknowledged and understood will create teams that are smarter, happier, and far more successful.

4/5/11

How to Soften the Blow of Bad News for Your Employees

One of the toughest parts of being a leader is having to tell your people what they don’t want to hear.

No, you won’t be getting a promotion at this time.

There aren’t going to be any bonuses this year.

Your request for a new hire has been denied.

I know you already feel overworked, but here are 3 new projects you’ll need to complete this quarter.

 

There’s no way to disguise the fact that bad news is bad news, so you can never hope to entirely remove its sting.  But you can learn to deliver bad news is a way that softens the blow, by increasing the chances that it will be perceived as fair. To do that, you’ll need to tailor your message to the motivational style of your employee.

Some people tend to see their goals as opportunities for gain or advancement.  In other words, they are focused on all the great things that will happen for them when they succeed – the benefits and rewards.  Psychologists call this a promotion focus, and research shows that promotion-minded people are more motivated by optimism and praise, and more likely to embrace risk and excel at creativity and innovation.

Others tend to see their goals as opportunities to avoid loss, to fulfill their responsibilities, and to stay safe.   They don’t want to lose what they have worked so hard to achieve, and worry about all the bad things that will happen if they make a mistake.  Psychologists call this a prevention focus, and the prevention-minded are more motivated by criticism and the looming possibility of failure than they are by applause and a sunny outlook.   Prevention-focused people are more risk-averse, but their work is also more thorough, more accurate, and more carefully-planned.

The key to enhancing the perceived fairness of bad news is to match the framing of your delivery to the motivational style of the listener.  For instance, imagine you are informing your team of an upcoming company-wide reorganization – news that is generally met with groans and dismay.   You could justify the reorganization using positive framing (e.g., the reorganization will “make the company more profitable,”) which highlights potential gains, or you could use a negative framing (e.g., the reorganization will “prevent further financial losses,”) which emphasizes avoiding unwanted outcomes.

New research shows that promotion-minded employees judge bad news to be significantly more fair when it is delivered using positive framing, while prevention-minded employees are more amenable to negative framing.

For example, in one study, promotion-minded university students judged a proposed tuition increase to be significantly more clear, candid, truthful, and reasonable when it was justified as allowing the university to “provide better education, strengthen courses, and retain faculty.”

Prevention-minded students, on the other hand, preferred the tuition hike to be described as a way of  “avoiding deterioration of quality, cuts to courses, and loss of faculty.”

In another study, participants read an article about (real) layoffs at Daimler Chrysler.  Promotion-minded readers rated the layoffs as significantly more fair and reasonable when they were described as an opportunity to “promote market share,”  while prevention-minded readers were more favorably impressed when the layoffs were justified as  “preventing loss of market share.”

So next time you find yourself having to take a project out of the hands of one team member who’s clearly floundering, and transferring it to another, you’ll know whether to describe it as an “opportunity to devote your energy to other assignments” or as a way to “avoid being dangerously overloaded with work.”

Whenever you deliver bad news to an employee, always start by diagnosing his motivational style – is he a risk –taker, or risk-averse?   Are his strengths speed and creativity, or accuracy and thoroughness?   Know who you are talking to, and you’ll know what you need to say to put bad news in the best possible light.

 

3 Proven Ways to Change a Bad Habit

Each year, we see January 1st as a time for fresh starts - for tackling our bad habits head on and replacing them with new, healthier ones.  Maybe you want to start exercising regularly, quit smoking, lose a few pounds, or remember to call your mother more often.   Now Spring is here, and many of us are no closer to changing our bad habits than we were three months ago.  But don’t give up yet!  No matter what it is you would like to do differently, these simple, scientifically-tested strategies will help you to finally make the real, lasting changes you’re looking for.

 

  1. 1. Get Specific.  Very Specific.


One of the most common mistakes we make when trying to reach a goal is not being specific enough about what we want, and what we we’re going to do to make it happen.  We say things like “I want to lose some weight” – but how much exactly do you want to lose?  Studies show that it is much easier to stay motivated when we have a very specific end point in mind, and can know at any moment exactly how far we still have to go.

Next, make sure you think about the specific actions you’ll need to take to succeed.  Don’t just say “I’ll eat less.”  Less of what?  And how much less?   Don’t just say “I’ll save more money each month.”  Decide exactly what will you spend less on to make that happen.  The more detailed you make your plan, the more likely you are to actually stick to it.

  1. 2. Embrace this Fact: It’s Going to Be Hard.


People will tell you that it is important to stay positive and be confident in order to reach any goal, and that’s perfectly true.  But there’s an important difference between believing you will succeed, and believing you will succeed easily. When you are tackling a difficult challenge, like losing weight or stopping smoking, you will be much better off if you accept the fact that it’s not going to be smooth sailing.

Studies show that people who are realistic about what it will take to succeed naturally plan more, put in more effort, and persist longer in pursuit of their goals.  They expect to have to work hard, so that’s exactly what they do.

For example, in one study, women in a weight loss program who believed that it would be hard to resist the temptation of snack foods lost 24 pounds more than women who believed they could easily ignore the allure of doughnuts and potato chips.  Because they accepted that it would be hard, they avoided being anywhere near tempting foods, and were much more successful because of it.



  1. 3. Willpower is Like a Muscle.  Plan What You’ll Do When It Gets Tired.


Research shows that your capacity for self-control is very much like the muscles in your body - it can grow stronger with regular exercise.  But just as well-developed biceps sometimes get tired and jelly-like after too much use, coping with the daily stresses of career and family can exhaust your supply of willpower.  When you tax it too much at once, or for too long, the well of self-control strength runs dry.   It is in these moments that the doughnut wins.

If you’ve spent all your self-control handling other challenges, you will not have much left at the end of the day for resisting bad habits.  So it’s important to think about when you are most likely to feel drained and vulnerable, and make a plan to keep yourself out of harm’s way.  Be prepared in advance with an alternate activity or a low-calorie snack, whichever applies.