Tiger Woods, Jesse James, John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford, Bill Clinton.... you get where I'm going. It's only too obvious what these men have in common. Each of them cheated on his wife, not once, but (allegedly) many, many times. And because they are all public figures of one kind or another, each of them was taking a bigger-than-usual risk every time. The possibility of exposure increases with fame, as do the potential consequences, and no doubt they were all well aware of it. Whatever you may think of these men - that they are despicable, that they are sex addicts, that their actions might be in some sense justifiable - you really can't help but wonder how in the world they thought they would get away with it. In the age of 24-hour news, relentless paparazzi, and countless internet gossip sites, it's gotten awfully hard to keep a secret. Why did these men think that theirs would be the exception?
Alan Greenspan was instrumental in determining U.S. financial policy for 19 years, but he somehow doesn't feel he is responsible for the failure of the policy he helped create. Is he crazy? Actually, no. Is he consciously and willfully misleading the Commission (and the rest of us)? Very probably not. Without actually being Alan Greenspan, I can't say for sure, but the odds are good that he really does believe he's not to blame. And as much as we might like to think otherwise, we'd probably feel the same way if we were in his shoes.
Tiger Woods returned to the world of professional golf yesterday at the Masters Tournament, after a months-long and scandal-plagued absence. Many sports analysts doubted that he would perform well - some predicted that he wouldn't even get past the first cut. How could he possibly focus? Wouldn't he be distracted by all the turmoil? Surely he couldn't perform under that kind of pressure, under such hostile scrutiny?
In my first year of graduate school, I got the opportunity to give my very first psychology lecture. The professor who taught the course suggested that I videotape my performance, so I could see what I did well and what needed improvement. When I finally sat down to watch the video, it was more than a little horrifying. My "um"s and "uh"s outnumbered the actual words 2-to-1. Even worse, I saw that I touched my nose over and over again while speaking, as though I were constantly monitoring my own sobriety. Somewhere along the way I had unknowingly developed some very bad habits, and unless I wanted to be ruthlessly mocked for the rest of my teaching career, I was going to have to break them.
Self-control, or willpower, is essential for achieving just about any important goal. Resisting temptations (like tasty snacks or cigarettes), ignoring distractions (like your rapidly filling email Inbox or your gossiping coworkers), taking actions you'd really rather not take (like getting on that treadmill or asking your penny-pinching boss for a raise) - all of these actions require significant self-control. Do you have the willpower to get the job done, or have you found yourself giving in to temptations, distractions, and inaction when trying to reach your own goals? If it's the latter, you're not alone. But more importantly, you can do something about it.
Every Saturday morning, while my husband JD is eating his cereal and attempting to fully awaken, I ambush him with the list of household chores and errands I’ve been making all week (and saving for when he’ll be home to help me.) Every single time, an argument ensues. At its core is JD’s unshakeable belief that any task, no matter how complex or difficult, can be completed in about 15 minutes. “Let’s go out and have some fun, “ he’ll say, “and we’ll tackle that stuff when we get back this afternoon.” “But there won’t be enough time!” I reply, with mounting frustration. “It will be fine,” he says. He is almost always wrong.
If you read my last blog post, you'll know that I am a big fan of planning. If-then planning, in particular, is a really powerful way to help you achieve any goal. Well over 100 studies, on everything from diet and exercise to negotiation and time management, have shown that deciding in advance when and where you will take steps to reach your goal (e.g., "If I am hungry and want a snack, then I will choose a healthy option like fruit or veggies,") can double or triple your chances for success. But once you've decided to make an if-then plan, the next thing you need to do is figure out what goes in it. And it turns out that some plans suit each of us better than others.
When it comes to food, I'm what you might call a "grazer." Rather than eat three substantial meals a day, my natural tendency is to eat pretty much all day long. Which would probably be fine if, like most grazing animals, I was limiting myself to grasses. Unfortunately, like most Americans, I much prefer to snack on foods that aren't very good for me - highly processed foods that are high in fat, sugar, and calories. In addition to being a great way to pack on unwanted pounds, snacking turns out to be a very hard habit to break.