Not long after I published Six Simple Rules for a Better Life, I read a book called Willpower, by Roy Baumeister & John Tierney, which had come out the same month.

In my book’s introduction, I talk about how to make changes that stick. I knew my method worked, but I didn’t know why it was so important until I read Willpower. I wrote about the book here.

Willpower was a revelation to me because it explained why my approach led to real, positive, lasting change. Knowing from experience I was right had empowered me. Understanding why, took it to a new level.

Baumeister & Tierney explain, and demonstrate by sharing the results of numerous studies, the reason it’s so hard to make changes that stick. Humans have a limited supply of willpower and when we try to make too many changes at the same time, or changes that are too big, we are destined to fail. Thus, my mantra: breaking down your goals into tiny pieces, and working on them one at a time for the 21 days it takes to turn them into a habit.

In a piece last year in the Wall Street Journal, Baumeister said of willpower, or self-control, “…it’s con­tributed im­mensely to the suc­cess of our species. But I think there’s also the sense that if we had a lit­tle more, we would do even bet­ter. I call self-con­trol the moral mus­cle. It’s what cre­ates the ca­pac­ity for hu­mans to act in certain ways when they don’t want to. So what we need to un­der­stand is that we have this mar­velous ca­pacity but that it is not un­lim­ited. It fails some­times. The key is that self-con­trol works through habits. By set­ting up good habits, you’re not re­sist­ing temp­ta­tion or get­ting your­self out of jams or fight­ing the odds, but rather you’re us­ing your self-con­trol to set life up to run on au­topi­lot. Then it runs smoothly, and you can save your willpower to put into more cre­ative en­deav­ors.”

Or as I like to say, the reason it’s so important to turn your goals into habits (which can only happen if you break the goals down into small pieces) is so they stick, and then you can add more habits, which will add up to the large changes you want.

But you have to be patient. It’s not going to happen overnight. You have to believe that’s okay, because it’s far better to spend the next three years creating 52 new habits (one every 21 days) than finding yourself each New Year’s eve listing the same resolutions you did the prior year. Even if you only add half as many new habits, 26 new habits is far more than you otherwise would have.

What is your experience with willpower? Please join the conversation with your comments…

Best regards,