About willpower

Jann Freed is a leadership development and change management consultant at The Genysys Group.

Have you ever said to yourself: I wish I had more self-control or willpower? Life is complicated and presents us with many temptations. Having more control over how we make decisions regarding relationships, health and financial security would likely improve the quality of our life. Research shows the two personal qualities that are said to predict “positive outcomes” in life consistently tend to be intelligence and self-control. While intelligence or IQ is hard to increase, researchers have discovered how to improve self-control. In their book "Willpower: Discovering the Greatest Human Strength," Roy Baumeister and John Tierney share research that supports improving willpower "is the surest way to a better life.”

Much is written about the value of the mindfulness movement (being present, paying attention, being focused) in leadership and business and medical arenas. Google, Target, General Mills and Intel are a few of the companies that have had mindfulness programs for several years. Based on mindfulness research, managers are realizing that allowing time for reflection, creativity and resilience has a positive impact on employees through stress reduction that results in improved productivity.

However, people forget about willpower, and this is probably the most underutilized human talent. Based on research by Baumeister and Tierney, willpower is something that can be actively trained, harvested and used in whatever direction we choose. Their research concluded:

  • We have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as we use it.
  • We use the same stock of willpower for all manners of tasks (work, diet, exercise, attitude).

In fact, Baumeister and Tierney divide the uses of willpower into four broad categories: control of thoughts, control of emotions, impulse control, and performance control or focusing energy on the task at hand. One way to build willpower is the use of “bright lines.” These are rules that are clear, simple and nonnegotiable. You know when you have crossed a bright line. “Once you’ve committed to following a bright line rule, your present self can feel confident that your future self will observe it, too. … Your belief becomes a form of self-control: a self-fulfilling mandate. I think I won’t, therefore I don’t.” This is a way to develop discipline in making decisions in life and in work. Life is complicated, and following these rules can simplify your life. Ironically, the more we follow bright line rules, the less energy it takes and the more willpower we have to use in other ways.

26938Most people think that change happens gradually in life, but change does not happen gradually. You build up momentum to make a change that happens in a moment. You gather enough energy and evidence to support making that change. The actual change itself is instantaneous.  

I discovered that the awareness of mindfulness helped me build willpower as a tool that is transforming my life. From my research, I learned the value of having a practice that quiets the mind at the same time that it builds strength, enables flexibility and works on balance. Since my book was published in 2013 ("Leading With Wisdom: Sage Advice from 100 Experts"), I have been committed to practicing yoga six times a week. While I have learned many things from my instructor, James Miller, it is his willpower I find most inspiring.  

Miller created Adamantine Yoga™, in which the books "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience," written by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and "Willpower" are the psychology and foundation behind his approach. “While 'Flow' is about optimal experience, 'Willpower' taught me the philosophy to empower people to activate the psychology of optimal experience.” Miller often reminds me that “every moment we have the power to make a decision — choice. We can go one way or another.”

I realized my yoga practice would improve if I lost weight, and this has never been easy for me to do. But being mindful of what I was eating by paying attention was worth it. Miller recommended The Whole 30 Program based on “bright line rules.” Cut out grains, dairy, legumes and sugar for 30 days as a way to push the “reset” button for the body to determine how various foods are having an impact. I completed this program, achieved my goal and realized the power of willpower by following clear rules. It took less energy to make healthy dietary decisions.

When we have a stressful day and are committed to eating and drinking in a certain way, it is harder to use our willpower to make the right decisions. While we know this intuitively, now there is research to support this. People who use bright line rules to help guide their lives use less willpower in doing so. When willpower is depleted, frustrations and stress increase, which have negative consequences on personal decisions and relationships.  

It is easy to think that some people naturally have more self-control than others. But now we know everyone can improve their willpower in order to improve their quality of life. Additionally, one of the most interesting research findings in "Willpower" is this: “People with stronger willpower are more altruistic. They’re more likely to donate to charity, to do volunteer work and to offer their own homes as shelter to someone with no place to go. … Inner discipline still leads to outer kindness.”

Lessons from elevator school

Ro Crosbie is president of Tero International, a premier interpersonal skills and corporate training company.

Do you remember what you learned in elevator school? Interview_man 

Let me refresh your memory. When you are waiting for the elevator to arrive, it is permissible to talk. When the elevator arrives, you board the elevator, push the button for your floor, go to the back of the elevator (corner, if available), look up and silently watch the floor numbers.

Everyone knows that the only time it is permissible to talk on an elevator is when there are only two people or if they love each other a lot.

How do you feel about someone who boards the elevator, faces you, and talks? Uncomfortable! Clearly, they have not been to elevator school.

You’re standing too close to me

We protect a personal distance around us of 18 inches. We don’t allow anyone in that space unless we love them a lot or we’re going to hit them. This space is violated on an elevator, and that’s why we don’t talk. It is also the reason a handshake is an excellent method of greeting someone. It allows us to make a human connection while preserving personal space.

How is this relevant to your leadership?

It is amazing how many leaders set up their meeting rooms oblivious to the personal space requirements of others. Individuals who are crammed into a room are challenged to interact. They may even find it difficult to concentrate on the topic at hand. By simply providing everyone with personal space, you are also providing them with think space that allows them to interact more openly and freely.

Try this with friends

The next time you are in a restaurant, observe how the room is set up. We are provided with about 18 inches of table space for our stuff – plate, flatware, napkin, water glass. In the center of the table is the community space. This is for the community stuff – salt, pepper, bottle of wine. 

Have fun the next time you are out for dinner, and mess with the community stuff. Put the bottle of wine in your personal space and watch the reaction of your dining companions. Or, crowd a member of the dinner party with the community stuff (put the salt and pepper or mashed potatoes in their personal space). This is a great way to carry out your own research in human behavior and discover how sensitive we are to personal space. 

Meeting environment tips

The next time you are leading a meeting, give some thought to room set-up. Ensure everyone has at least 18 inches of personal space on each side of them. 

Where should people be seated? Eye contact is the driver in seating selection. Research reveals that the person you are most likely to argue with in a meeting is the one sitting across the table from you. That is direct eye contact, and it is the harshest form of eye contact.   

The person you are least likely to argue with in is the one sitting next to you. It is difficult to argue with someone in your personal space that you can’t easily get eye contact with. 

The ideal seating for a collaborative discussion is a 90-degree angle. This is a softer form of eye contact. 

Other things that contribute to a challenging meeting environment include:

  • Differences in chair height (the person in the highest chair has the highest eye contact advantage and has greater perceived power).
  • Doors and windows to someone’s back create an unconscious sense of threat.
  • Bright lights in eyes are challenging.
  • Cold or overly warm rooms hinder productivity in meetings.

When you are preparing to lead your next meeting, give some thought to the meeting environment in addition to crafting your meeting agenda.

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Starting and growing your own business

Michelle DeClerck is president of Conference Event Management.

No matter what stage your business is in, business ownership is not a venture you go into alone. That’s not to say you need to be in business with someone else, as many times those relationships disintegrate over time with one owner blaming the other for not doing their fair share of the work. 

For your business to succeed in challenging times as well as to thrive, it’s essential you rely on partnerships to help you grow and offer the best services possible. These partnerships come in many forms, with a key component starting with personal coaching. As an owner, it’s not often possible to divulge all of your information to your staff and while it can be lonely in this role, a coach is the perfect complement to your business success. While my coach lives in Chicago and consults mostly with Fortune 500 executives, our relationship allows me to consider big company practices and meld them into my company’s culture as appropriate. It also provides me with reassurance when I need a boost or want to run a new idea by someone who is going to be objective with their feedback.      

Another key partnership can be a coach aligned with your business operations, someone who focuses on helping your team grow and on the logistics of your company. You can also lean on the expertise of trainers to come in and work on specific projects, such as with client relationships, or sales, or any area where your team has a passion to take it to the next level. 

Key relationships among a trusted group of other business owners may also prove to be one of the best investments you can make with your time and is perfect for those on a tight budget who aren’t able to presently hire coaches. Being purposeful in setting up one-on-one meetings before you start or end your workday often offers you a chance to learn how that business owner is addressing challenges, and can be very motivating as you realize you are not in this alone – someone else is actually experiencing many of the same challenges you are. This free opportunity to share best practices is truly a priceless benefit you don’t want to overlook.

We also rely on many other strategic partnerships with other like-minded or complementary companies. This can allow you to ensure you can provide the best services possible for your clients, while gaining even greater expertise without a financial stake with these organizations. As partnerships are hotter than ever in today’s small-business world, aligning with other organizations nearly always results in more business, more referrals and more opportunities. 

And of course, when all the partnership conversations have taken place, picking up a great self-help book on business ownership, leadership, or best business practices is always a great way to consider new ideas and inspire you to try something new in your business. Whatever you decide, I hope you’ll decide to include others and turn it into a business success story.

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