Leverage, Willpower and Trajectory

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about these three things. Some of it as it relates to others and my profession, sure, though also a lot about what they mean for me and my ability to affect change for my personal growth and happiness.

This train of thought began awhile ago, when I finally conceded that willpower is not one of my strengths.

At some point in my twenties, it had dawned on me not only that willpower is not a strength of mine, but that it’s the one tool for personal change I had relied on relentlessly. When I failed, and I often did, I tried to muster up more of it.

I began to feel like I was paddling a canoe with a hammer. When I would start drifting off course, I’d paddle the hammer harder. Sure it’s a great tool, but not the tool for this job.

Before going any further, let’s be clear I’m talking about good old fashioned, day-to-day kinds of change. For the sake of this blog, let’s take classic things like engaging in positive movement (“exercise” if you want to call it that; I don’t), eating well, drinking enough water throughout the day, getting on a sane sleep schedule. Stuff like that.

In my search for understanding, I think I’m onto two things. I’m sure neither of them are new per se—I’ve actually probably read them both on Yogi Tea bags at some point—but they do feel real and poignant now.

I’ve noticed:

1.  a tendency for either direction—donuts or broccoli—to gain some significant momentum without much effort after certain initial choices. One of my earliest memories of this was noticing that after yoga classes in college, I actually wanted to eat a salad much more than a fast-food burger.

For me, yoga was what I’m now calling a high-leverage activity. I’ve since identified a few in my own life, now defined as much by feel as by specific act … or, rather, the specific acts will tend to change.

On the other end, choosing food is not a high-leverage activity for me, as in it tends to be much more an effect than a cause. To date, food choices are where I will nearly always notice my willpower failing without something more high-leverage in charge of my trajectory.

And speaking of trajectory …

2. an interesting question emerging: who’s battling who here? This gets existential pretty fast, tho’ also serves as a useful platform, I think, whenever we’re looking at questions of what we want. As in, there’s only one of me … what do I wholly want, feel to be true, etc?

I add this second realization mostly because I really appreciate where the two meet: for me, and I’d venture to say for a lot of us, engaging in those high-leverage activities also tends to engage us in ways that offer us the most opportunity to grow.

For example, I could have grit my teeth and eat a salad instead of what I really wanted, but rarely did, until in this case the yoga classes were a pretty powerful psychosomatic, or mind-body, opening experience for me. (I’m only noticing this in retrospect.) The high-leverage activity set a certain trajectory and a momentum followed from there.

Willpower isn’t nearly as important for me as I used to think, though it certainly can’t be zero, as something’s got to get us off the ground.

Thus, an equation for positive change: change = (leverage x [willpower/100]) + (trajectory x # of days since leverage implemented)

∆ = LW/100 + TD

Simple, right? 🙂 Joking aside, these realizations have been helpful for me, and I’d hope the same, as always, for you!

I’d also be curious to hear how you actually create positive change in your life, how you’ve failed at it, or both! Comment below if you’d be willing to share with the public, or send me an email.

Thanks, cheers, Liam

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8 Responses to Leverage, Willpower and Trajectory

  1. Sigrid says:

    Hey Liam, I’m listening to the audio book version of “The power of Habit”. It is such a mind blowing book to dive into – it talks a lot about will power (versus habits), which is something I have thought a lot about too (but only for the past 30 years ;). It really made me switch my thinking. I’m sure you would enjoy it and it might even be helpful for you in your work with other people.
    Good night – Sigrid

    • Liam Bowler says:

      Cool, Sigrid, thanks for the recommendation! Yeah, as long as we’ve got this body-mind-personality thing that tends towards certain patterns anyway … might as well make those patterns work in our favor, eh?

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  3. Jared Dubey says:

    Really great post, Liam. But I think the formula you’re looking for is: (L + W/100) * TD . This way, Leverage has more leverage than will and the whole package gets stronger as the days go on! … Ok, I know, I’m a math nerd. Keep up the good work! And thank you 🙂

    • Liam Bowler says:

      Hi Jared, thank you! And yes, perfect! I was waiting for a math nerd to come along and save the day here 🙂

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