When I was starting out as a freelancer, I didn’t realize how much effort I would need to invest into generating new habits. I thought I could use my willpower to overcome all challenges.
And in some way it’s true. You can use your willpower to create a new habit or routine for yourself. But there is a catch; willpower is a finite resource.
Just like any muscle, you can strengthen your willpower, but it also gets tired and needs to recover.
My problem was that I didn’t understand this principle during my first year of freelancing. I experienced burnout, a lot of stress, and returned to a lot of bad habits.
Running on pure willpower is completely unsustainable. Particularly for people with variable incomes, like freelancers (hello!) and entrepreneurs.
Because without a stable income stress creeps in faster and you require more willpower to keep working at your best. That can spiral out of control, especially if you are a creative person and want to tackle all your ideas at the same time.
So, what can you do?
First, you need to take a complete energy log; you can find how to do that on my previous post about the work/life balance myth. Once you have it, it’s time to create your own if/then decisions.
An if/then decision is something common for people who write code or work with logic or User Experience Design (UX for short). In super easy terms it means that IF something happens THEN, something else needs to happen.
For example, some of my decisions are:
- IF I have a meeting, THEN I have to do a quick 5-minute yoga routine.
- IF I feel overwhelmed, THEN I will step away from my work and cook or play a video game for 20 minutes.
- IF I finish a project or accomplish something, THEN I will celebrate accordingly (it can be just a quick victory pose, or something bigger like go to a restaurant I like).
- IF I get a new idea or task, THEN I will immediately write it in my bullet journal.
These type of decisions work because you are using a trigger to create a behavioral pattern. It’s the same way your good and bad habits work.
The key is to select the right trigger. That’s why you went through the effort of creating an energy log. It's filled with things that sap your energy (Triggers) and things that refill your energy (Actions to be taken).
You just need to pair them up in a way that makes sense. For example, if I use video games to recover my energy, I could spend too much time, so it’s better to use a quick yoga session.
Once you create your If/Then decisions it’s time to apply them. That’s where your willpower will have to tackle the challenge.
So, how can this method save your willpower if you have to use it?
Think of it as an investment; you will put a lot of willpower in the first month you are doing this. But as you practice you will notice you need less and less, until it becomes a habit. Once you reach that point, you barely spend willpower anymore.
Then you can begin the cycle again, choose another behavior you want to change and create an If/Then decision around it.
This sequence will strengthen your willpower muscle without reaching burnout. Just don’t try to add 50 different habits at the same time; focus on one, do it for 100 days (yes, it takes time) and you will see how you are changing your life.
This method is even better if you understand your values and what matters to you. But I will talk about that in my next article. For now, go and create your first If/Then decision and start building the life you want.
PS: The link in this post is an affiliate link, if you buy Sandi’s book using it, I get a small commission. If you do, thank you! If not, that’s cool too.:)