The Willpower to Succeed

Could a written plan of action help you recover faster from surgery?  Could it help you complete a task you find difficult?  Research suggests it can.

In the early 1990’s, a British psychologist conducted research in two Scottish hospitals on patients who had just received hip replacement surgery.  The psychologist recruited elderly patients who were mostly poor and uneducated, and since they had put off surgery for so long, they were now facing a difficult road to recovery.

As reported in Charles Duhigg’s bestselling book The Power of Habit, the researcher asked one group of participants to write out their 13-week plan of action for recovery.  He asked the patients to outline the activities they planned to do each week in as much detail as possible.  The other group was not asked to construct a plan.

Three months later the researcher visited the patients and discovered a striking difference between the two groups.  The ones with a plan had recovered significantly faster, starting to walk almost twice as fast as the other group.

When the researcher scrutinized the written plans, she found that patients wrote about how they would handle various types of discomfort expected during recovery.  This meant when patients encountered those painful moments that make us all want to quit, they had already coached themselves through how to manage the discomfort.  On the other hand, patients without a plan were not prepared for handling the painful road to recovery.

The researcher discovered that the faster-recovering patients had deliberately designed willpower habits through their planning.  They thought ahead about obstacles and considered how to keep going.

Therefore, if we want to work on a challenge, research suggests we will instill the willpower needed by writing out a plan.  How will we keep going when the going gets tough?  Putting that on paper will help us discover the willpower to succeed.

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