Career changers often hire coaches to help them make substantive changes so they can advance in their careers and perhaps even find a whole new path. Often these coaches will encourage you to begin a daily practice, such as keeping a journal or meditating.
These activities might seem a little simplistic – even silly – but there are some pretty good reasons why they work. You’re free to believe in any explanation, such as the law of attraction, but often these practices lead to success because they draw on willpower, a topic psychologists are re-discovering.
Researchers are re-discovering the importance of willpower for getting things done. I’ve just been reading Baumeister and Tierney’s book, Willpower. We’re learning that willpower can work like a muscle: when you use a lot of mental energy to accomplish one task, you have less mental energy left over to complete another task.
For example, hungry volunteers are led into a room where they see plates of chocolate chip cookies and plates of radishes. They are told to eat the radishes. Reluctantly, that’s what they do.
But now they’re asked to solve some difficult mental puzzles. They’re sent back to the room. This time, it’s harder for them to resist.
But there’s good news. You can learn to harness your willpower. In one study, volunteers were asked to think about their posture several times a day. They were asked to straighten up each time. After a few weeks of focusing on posture, these individuals were able to apply willpower more effectively than those in a control group.
This experiment makes me think of the way the military works. The idea is that if you can show discipline in basic training, you’ll be stronger elsewhere in your life. I am not sure this theory works. In fact, Baumeister and Tierney admit that it’s hard to keep applying willpower when you don’t get rewards or reinforcement for a long time.
I suspect this type of consistent activity might explain why people seem to do well after they carry out a regular practice that calls for discipline but is self-reinforcing, such as meditating or keeping a journal. When we read about the magic impact of just writing affirmations or writing down 3 reasons to be grateful every day, it’s easy to forget that doing these things on a regular basis isn’t easy. It’s especially easy to stop if the rewards aren’t forthcoming.
I was a regular TM meditator for many years, faithfully meditating twice a day almost the entire time. I’ve done the Julia Cameron 3 pages a day program – just once. I am also a regular exerciser at the gym. I was lacking in willpower to keep my office organized and declutter my home.
So if you’re looking for a career boost, I’d recommend trying one of those practices for awhile. See if you gain from doing the practice itself or if you find yourself changing in other ways. If you can summon the discipline and willpower to write in a journal once a day, you may find yourself responding differently to career challenges beyond the journal.