If you are like me, you start the week with an ambitious list of things to accomplish. Each goal is specifically chosen as a priority and, when I’m extra ambitious, is placed on my calendar to block out time. Three weeks later, some of these goals remain on my ‘gotta get it done’ list. They are still important, but other items seemed to continuously push them into the following week. Brian Michael Bendis seems to have figured out how to work through these lapses in self-control.
On a recent Nerdist Writers Panel podcast, famed comic book writer and artist Brian Michael Bendis was discussing how he so prolifically churns out so many stories. Bendis is the primary architect of the Ultimate Marvel Universe and heads up books on such iconic characters as Spider-Man, the Avengers, and Powers. Needless to say, he has a full plate. So how does Bendis get it all done?
My plan is to write a script a week. I’m a big believer in that David Mamet movie where one man can do what another can do. I am a big believer almost as a religion. And if Aaron Sorkin when he was on West Wing could write one 88-page script…I can get to 25. If he can do it, I can do it. I’m a big believer in that. And also one week makes me feel like I did something that week. It’s an accomplishment that doesn’t feel hacky. And sometimes it’s a little more, you’re in the zone, so you keep going. And sometimes I don’t go to bed until I’ve clocked one in for Monday.
As overwhelming as one script a week may seem, it’s Bendis’ willpower that makes it happen. There is no “I’ll do it next week.” He has set an uncompromising, self-imposed goal that will (not “hopefully”, “might”, or “probably”) be realized.
On the downside, research shows most of us overestimate our resolve; the ability to refrain from tempting distractions is simply too powerful. Fortunately, research has also found that self-control can be strengthened. To be a Bendis-like superhero of discipline, build up your self-restraint with a few of these mental exercises.
Promise Yourself. Willpower is based on being self-motivated. It is not about creating situations where you rely on others to push you to perform. Therefore, impose strict goals with deadlines on yourself. Feel free to share them with others, but these promises are intended for you. The research demonstrates that those who set these clear, aspiring targets perform better than those who do not.
Reward Yourself. It’s not enough to be motivated by the end-goal; you need a prize waiting for you at the finish line. This makes the short-term sacrifices feel more energizing and worthwhile.
Punish Yourself. Just as there are benefits to successfully reaching each milestone, there must also be consequences for falling short. According to the Handbook of Motivation Science, self-imposed penalties have been found to “prevent individuals from deviating from their goal pursuit.”
Inconvenience Yourself. If cheating seems easy, make it harder. One company wanted to encourage staff to ride their bikes, so they created a key rack that holds both a bike key and a car key. If you take the car key, the bike key drops to the ground forcing you to pick it up and reconsider your decision. These little “pleasurable troublemakers” can go a long way to help you keep your focus and avoid shortcuts.
Affirm Yourself. The benefits of a mental pep talk cannot be underestimated. Does it feel cheesy? Maybe, but it works. Positive self-affirmations remind you of your priorities, reaffirm your values, and can build you back up during challenging times.
A personal goal keeps the train running. – Brian Michael Bendis
Bendis may write about superheroes, but that does not make him one. He has the same temptations we all do. The difference is that he has the willpower and self-control to ensure that his self-imposed goals are fulfilled. We have the same capabilities; we simply need to unleash them.