In the world of self-improvement and self-help, there’s an almost endless number of books, podcasts, conferences, and gurus all claiming to have the one magic answer. I’m always striving to improve myself and I’m all too aware of my flaws, so I’ve read countless books on habits, goals, and personal development in an effort to be the person I want to be and live a life I can be proud of. Not surprisingly, while many of the books have insights and tactics that I’ve found helpful, no one book or thought leader has had all the answers.
There are two books, however, that I continue to go back to time and time again. These books have simple, behavior-based truths and actionable tools for success that anyone can use to achieve any goal they have. Unlike self-help fads that come and go (like The Secret, The Rules, and astrology in general), these paradigms stand the test of time. They cover two concepts that I’ve found critical to success: streaking and willpower.
Why Willpower Doesn’t Work
Willpower is the mental strength and discipline that we use to control our thoughts, actions, and emotions in the pursuit of our goals. It is an essential component of self-control, and it plays a vital role in shaping our behaviors and outcomes. Willpower is not something that we are born with, but rather it is a skill that we can develop and strengthen through practice and repetition. It’s also exhausting and, ultimately, unsustainable on its own. Anyone who’s ever tried to diet through sheer willpower knows the bitter taste of defeat when they finally succumb to the siren song of the cookies in the pantry.
In Benjamin Hardy’s book Willpower Doesn’t Work, he explains why willpower alone will always prove to be insufficient. Setting a goal with willpower as the sole driving force is setting yourself up for failure. At some point, things start to get in the way. You cheat on your diet when it’s been a bad day and your favorite cookies are in the pantry, you stop writing your book after the first chapter because other tasks keep coming first, etc. Failure is inevitable.
Hardy teaches the importance of changing your environment to support your goals, which effectively lets you outsource the energy you would have put into willpower and let your environment do the work. For example, don’t buy cookies when you’re on a diet (your willpower only needs to get you through the shopping!). If they’re not in the pantry, you can’t eat them. Join a writer’s group to hold you accountable for having written a little more of your book between each meeting. You get the idea. Ultimately, if you’re unwilling to change your environment to support your goal, how important can it really be to you?
Once you’ve created environments that optimize you for success, Streaking comes in to create the consistency necessary for meaningful progress. In a nutshell, Streaking is the consistent execution of very simple behaviors. Though small and seemingly meaningless in isolation, these behaviors compound into the achievement of goals, mastery of skills, or whatever else you’re trying to accomplish. In Streaking, as in life, the little things are always the big things.
There are only three laws to Streaking. First, the behavior has to be laughably simple. So simple, in fact, that there’s never any reason not to do it. Remember, it’s the compounding of consistency and not the difficulty of the task that will lead to success. Second, if you don’t keep a record then the streak doesn’t count. Memory is unreliable, so find some way to formally keep track of your streaks (I recommend the mobile app). Third, join or create a community of like-minded streakers. Communities create accountability and build momentum through peer support. I have streaks that support my goals in business, faith, family, and personal development. I’m always amazed to see how much progress I’ve made as the streaks get longer and longer.
So there you have it: the secret to success. Combining the environmental changes from Willpower Doesn’t Work and the compounding daily wins from Streaking is the best way I’ve ever found to create lasting motivation.