Personal Development

5 Ways to Hack Your Willpower to Get More Done

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Accomplish-goals

I was chatting with a good buddy recently, and he says to me, “You know, Brandon, you’re like the ultimate willpower guy. You say you’re going to do something and then you just go and do it.”

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At this point, I start laughing because I’m the absolute worst with willpower. If there’s ice cream in the freezer, I’m eating it. Given a choice between working out or working on my tan, I’m going to go hang on the beach.

Then he brings up a few examples. He says, “Well, you’ve written five or six books. You post on your Instagram like six days a week that you’re at the gym…”

I see what he means in that I do get a lot accomplished. But—before it sounds like I’m bragging or that I’m Superman—hear me out. I don’t have anymore willpower than you—probably way less actually. So, how do I accomplish so much?

Before I get into that, let me give you a couple scenarios and see if they sound familiar to you. You decide to wake up early, but instead you end up hitting the snooze button like 47 times. You wake up at the last minute and rush out the door like usual.

Scenario No. 2 is that you say you’re going save more money. But you end up spending every single dime. Or you say you’re going to stop fighting with your spouse. But then immediately you fall back into that regular bickering that has plagued your marriage for years.

So, why does this stuff happen? Why can’t we just have the willpower to do what we want?

Because willpower sucks.

I don’t have much. You might not have much either. And the little that we do have is drained quickly.

So instead, I want to show you five different ways that I hack my willpower to actually get stuff done. Let’s get to it.

How to Improve Your Willpower & Achieve Your Goals

1. Focus on Pre-willpower Actions

Overall, my own willpower is generally crap. Instead, I focus on what I call pre-willpower. These are moments of clarity where the real battle is fought.

For example, I know if it’s late at night and I don’t have any ice cream in the house, I’m not going to get out of bed, get dressed, and drive to the store at midnight just because I have a craving. But if there’s ice cream in the freezer, I guarantee I’m going to get up and eat that.

So, what’s the answer to keep me from eating ice cream whenever I have a craving? I don’t keep any in the freezer. That’s pre-willpower.

Another example is trying to wake up early.

I’m not really a morning person, and I don’t enjoy getting up super early. But I do get up early almost every single day.

How?

I don’t rely on my willpower the morning of. I focus on pre-willpower actions the night before.

There’s this great little app called Alarmy that won’t let you shut off the alarm until you perform a certain action, like taking a photo of milk in your fridge or doing something simple—yet maddeningly difficult—at 5 a.m. Now I’m no longer relying on willpower the morning of, because I’ve set up my pre-willpower the night before.

2. Change Your Environment

There is an incredibly insightful book Atomic Habits by James Clear that tells a story of a heroin addict returning from the Vietnam War. In short, as many as 20% of returning service members were badly addicted to the drug. But here’s a shock: When they got back home, nine out of 10 of those easily kicked the drug.

What gives?

Environment. It plays a huge role in what we do.

If you’re surrounded by runners and living in a city with lots of running trails, it’s way more likely you’re going to be a runner without even needing to rely on your willpower.

Or say you want to buy some rental properties or flip houses. How can you set up your environment to make willpower less needed?

You could regularly attend real estate meetups in your area or become friends with a lot of local real estate investors. Or maybe you need to dedicate part of your home to be a place where you only do real estate investing work.

Related10 Tried & True Habits of Impressively Productive People

When it comes to getting stuff done, I’m a huge believer in changing my environment radically.

True story: I wanted to get into better shape and be a better surfer. So I literally packed up all of my stuff, put it into a shipping container, and moved my family to Maui.

And guess who lost 40 pounds and surfs weekly? This happened because my environment made it easy to do these things.

3. Focus on Your M.I.N.S.

Close up of woman hands making frame gesture with sunlight outdoors

This third tip for hacking your willpower is simple, and it’s something I do All. The. Freaking. Time.

I constantly identify my M.I.N.S., aka my most important next step. Here’s how it works: In almost every big thing you want to accomplish, there’s a simple, (usually under five minute) task that needs to to get done. Focus on identifying what that one thing is rather than on the whole picture.

A great story that illustrates this was taught by BiggerPockets Podcast guest Bryce Stewart. He talked about how he really needed to sell his truck. But he didn't know how to do that. He had a loan on it and didn't know what to do.

But he did know how to do one thing: He knew how to vacuum the truck. And that’s actually free. So, he did that.

Still, he didn’t know how to sell a truck with a loan on it. But he knew his wife knew how to take pictures. And this is still something free, too. So, she took pictures.

And he knew how to make a Craigslist ad (still free!), so he did that.

After that, people started calling him. So, then he let people start test-driving his truck.

Are you seeing a pattern here? Bryce kept identifying his most important next step. And by constantly and consistently hacking away at those little trees, he was able to clear the entire forest.

And by the way, this might sound familiar to you because BiggerPockets recently launched a daily guided journal called The Intention Journal. And this is a major component of identifying your M.I.N.S. Each day, you note what your big goal is. Furthermore, you identify your most important next step for that goal. And then you schedule it.

Imagine doing that process every day. What big things could you accomplish? Try it out and see.

4. Measure What Matters

Look, I’ll keep this short. One of the ways I hacked my willpower is by tracking the things that matter to me. It’s super simple to add a checkmark to a box. And that’s really most of the tracking that I do for most things. But that simple action can lead to huge results.

Here’s an example in my real estate investing business. We know that we'll likely have a great chance of buying some big real estate deals if we consistently make offers. So, we track how many offers we make. Our goal this quarter is to make 25 offers on large mobile home parks with over 100 pads. Every time we make an offer, we check a box and then we celebrate.

I do the same tracking with date nights with my wife, daddy-daughter dates with my daughter, days at the gym, mornings that I woke up before 6 a.m., and even the number of days that I don’t work because I measure what matters. I record what’s relevant. I track what I want to improve.

There’s a great book on this topic called The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney, and Jim Huling. In short, it’s a really simple, yet incredibly powerful, book about the process for getting big stuff done.

Here’s a quick summary:

  • First, it’s about setting a big goal.
  • Second, it’s about setting regular actions called lead measures that are going to help you you reach your goal.
  • Third, it’s about measuring your progress in a stupid simple manner.
  • Fourth, it’s about being regularly held accountable for reaching your goal.

5. Accountability

Accountability-group

As a spiritual guy, I’m a big believer in spending a few minutes every day reading my bible. It helps me to have a better day, be a better person, and get into the right mindset. But I’m absolutely terrible at relying on willpower to actually set aside time to read. To solve this problem, I recently implemented something that’s worked incredibly well for me.

My buddy Adam has the same goal—to at least read a little bit every day. We just simply send a text back and forth with exactly what we read. This simple act has kept both of us consistent for months now.

Why? Accountability.

Accountability can be used for many aspects of your life. I’ve lost 40 pounds largely because I signed up for a service called MyBodyTutor. It’s a really simple program that matched me up with a fitness coach. And every day, I write exactly what I ate that day and what I did for working out. The next morning I get feedback on how I did.

Related: If You Fail Because You Dodge Accountability, Here’s a Surefire Solution

The simple act of being held accountable to everything I eat has helped me keep the weight off. I also have a performance coach, Jason Drees, who holds me accountable to a ton of different commitments that I make every week. And I have a mastermind group with a couple rockstar real estate investors who hold me accountable for all my real estate stuff. Literally, they’re rockstars and real estate investors, which is pretty cool.

There’s also ways that I implement public accountability, like how I post an Instagram story every single time that I work out. Also, I post a picture of my Intention Journal daily to my Instagram story, so you can see everything that I’m working toward and how I’m getting there. So, now I have some public accountability because everyone following me is going to see if I don’t accomplish my goal.

Mix and Match

Notice how I use another one of these willpower hacks, measuring what matters, to make sure I get a task done. For example, I write how a workout was day 30 of 75 in the quarter, and then 300 of the year. I’m tracking it every single day.

By combining these different tricks, it’s like the ultimate hack. Don’t rely on just one of these hacks. Use all of them as needed.

Mix and match. Combine. Toss out what doesn’t work. And seek to find more ways to get stuff done that don’t rely on your willpower. Because I’ve said it over and over again: willpower sucks. Don’t rely on it.

Instead, hack it.

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Which willpower hack are you most excited to try and why?

Share with a comment below!

Brandon Turner is an active real estate investor, entrepreneur, writer, and co-host of the BiggerPockets Podcast. He is a nationally recognized leader in the real estate education space and has tau...
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    Barry H. Investor from Scottsdale, AZ
    Replied about 1 month ago
    Great advice in this article Brandon !! I have unknowingly applied several of your recommendations to my life. I especially like the "don't keep ice cream in the freezer" tip. I lost 75 lbs in 18 months, kinda like you lost 40 lbs (didn't realize you needed to), employing some of these tactics, including a modified version of your MINS strategy. Again, great tips and thanks !!
    Adrian Smude Rental Property Investor from Plant City, FL
    Replied about 1 month ago
    Wonderful article! I can definitely relate to the ice cream story. I’ve been doing most of these for a few years end it has changed my life for the better!
    JL Hut Investor from Greenville, Michigan
    Replied about 1 month ago
    Good action information Brandon. However I'll expand on one of your points a little bit more. Hopefully we all know how important it is to understand the personality traits of the people we live and work around to be successful. We need to know what motivates them what their strengths and weaknesses are. Even more important and I stress much more important is to know thyself. Many people look in the mirror and see a reflection back of somebody quite different then what other people see. If you're brave enough just ask your wife what she sees, if she's in your corner. Many people spend a lot of their life Shadow boxing with themselves. There's these unseen motivators that cause us to do things it's sabotage themselves. Every personality trait has positive and negative aspects to it. We tend to embrace the positives and ignore or deny the negatives. For example I sold a rental 3 unit to a new Young friend I made. He's very hard-working energetic and I thought maybe we could partner together. However he had one problem and that was he couldn't see the negative side of perfectionism. For instance I had rented out this 3 unit for over 30 years with almost zero downtime. He bought it from me and noticed that the third unit had a little bit quirky kitchen layout. When it became vacant he jumped right in and tore the kitchen all apart and then got distracted by making some quick cash as a contractor and it has sat vacant for 3 years. That one unit is the difference between making money or breaking even on this property. He's denied himself $21,000 of profit. Why, because many perfectionist have trouble completing projects. They see the imperfections and start projects that they have trouble finishing. Why, because they have such high standards that even they struggle to live up to them. Herein lies the importance of knowing both your positives and negatives and have a friend you will allow point it out. Otherwise you're doomed to repeat them over and over again. Shooting yourself in the foot repeatedly really hurts, and it hurts even more if you don't know why you do it. So number one rule in all endeavors is to know thyself. If you don't, you may slowly bleed to death and leave a trail of chaos behind you..
    Timias Woods Rental Property Investor from Los Angeles, CA
    Replied about 1 month ago
    Really insightful Brandon. Thanks for the tips.
    Dave Rav from Summerville, SC
    Replied about 1 month ago
    excellent post! Way to keep tabs on the "behind the scenes" factors that promote motivation and foster success!