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Deep Dive #15 Benjamin Hardy on Willpower, Personality and Goals

Dr. Benjamin Hardy is an organisational psychologist and bestselling author of Willpower Doesn’t Work and Personality Isn't Permanent.

Ali Abdaal
Ali Abdaal

Dr. Benjamin Hardy is an organisational psychologist and bestselling author of Willpower Doesn’t Work and Personality Isn't Permanent. His blogs have been read by over 100 million people and are featured on Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Fortune and many others. He is a regular contributor to Inc. and Psychology Today and from 2015-2018, he was the #1 writer in the world on Medium. In our insightful conversation, we covered willpower and personality as well as goals, motivation and writing.

Here are some of the highlights from our discussion:

In Western culture we are very individualistic but context is more important than the individual. We can all change our environment and it’s the situation that matters more than the individual.

“Goals give your brain a reason to process the information you take in”.

The key element for successful email growth is the super signature. This is an idea from Dean Jackson who said that you should include a call to action in the form of a P.S at the bottom of every one of your emails.

The argument against goals goes against human nature. Every human behaviour is to produce an end which in psychology is called prospection. If we didn’t visualise the future, all our behaviour would be reactive. What makes our decision-making powerful is that we can imagine a future that we want to create which we can use to dictate what we want to do now.

Motivation is a lot more easily created if you are clear about your outcome. In psychology, for both hope and motivation, you need three things – the outcome, the belief and the pathway and part of giving yourself a deadline with a goal forces you to find a pathway.

Measure the gain not the gap – rather than measure ourself against our ideal, we should measure ourself against our former self. If we do this then we’re always going to be measuring progress which will make us feel better. Just because you haven’t yet got to where you want to, it doesn’t mean you have to be upset in the present.

Even if we don’t see them as goals, the future does direct our present. But we get to choose the future that directs our present and ultimately, whether we call it goals or not, our behaviour is fundamentally driven by our goals and future plans.

“If you focus so much on your former self, you limit your capacity to think about what your future self could achieve"

We are kept from our goal not by obstacles but by clear paths to lesser goals. The true definition of decision is to remove options and we commit more to what we want by removing options (or lesser goals). By closing off options, we free up space in our brain and have more willpower to make better decisions towards our one goal.

"Man's mind, stretched to a new idea, never goes back to its original dimension" Oliver Wendell Holmes

Trauma is a meaning. Memory is always interpreted from the present and so we know that our views of the past are always up to us. Trauma is a meaning and we can choose to change the meaning to give a different perspective.

It’s helpful to ask ourselves what would our future self want, rather than what our present self wants. Thinking about who is the person we want to be versus who is the person we’re choosing to be can clarify the direction which we should move towards so that we are in a position in the future where you want to be.

Deep Dive

Ali Abdaal

Junior doctor, YouTuber, web designer, aspiring musician. Trying out this blogging thing.