Willpower is for Suckers: Make a Training System to Succeed

Any plan based on willpower for success is doomed. Success in anything is largely based on rhythm. The ability to take gradual and reliable steps toward your goal. Crunching away on the 10,000 hours of mastery is not going to come from a few good bursts of training, it’s going to come from a regular methodical practice over weeks and years.
Willpower is one of your most limited and tenuous resources. One’s will is too closely influenced by one’s whims, emotions, and energy levels. If you’re going to practice regularly and methodically you cannot rely on your ability to dig into your willpower reserve on a daily basis to get off the couch and start drilling. Instead you need to use those fleeting moments of willpower to create systems around your laziness.
If you have the will right now, don’t spend it on practice. Use those will-points on this instead:

1. Write down your training goals.

Create SMART goals. You can read more about that in my training journal post.
You can revise them later, so don’t get stuck here. Put some ideas down and get on to step 2.

2. Create a simple system and rhythm.

I’m going to go to class on Mondays and Wednesdays and practice on Fridays for 1 hour.
I’m going to practice cutting drills for 5 minutes everyday between classes.
I’m going to train every morning for 30 minutes. Mondays and Wednesdays on solo movement. Tuesdays and Thursdays on combative drills.
The regularity is more important than the details at this stage. Don’t go overboard. In fact you might want to cut your first scheduled plan in half, once you’ve done that for a month, then increase it.

3. Put it in your schedule.

Put it in your smart phone calendar app (with beeping reminders).
Put a calendar on the mirror of your bathroom or the inside of your house’s front door.
Put it in your portable agenda.
Treat these scheduled times like you would any other important meeting — i.e. don’t schedule over them.

4. Disclose your schedule.

Tell your training partners, your friends, your partner, post it on Facebook. Make your schedule public so you’re more accountable to it. Social pressure can be really powerful.

5. Get clever and target your blocks.

If you have a hard time following your own schedules or keeping your own commitments, right now email a buddy and invite them to join you in your training.
Or, link your practice to something you already do (like practicing while you watch your favourite TV show, or on your lunch break).

In Closing

If you fall off the wagon, use your next moment of will (it will come) to get help, renew your system, and target your blocks.
If you have the will right now, take 15 minutes and setup your system.
How can you make moving toward your goals as easy as possible?
Share your thoughts on willpower and planning in the comments.

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How to Keep a Training Journal

For many years I have kept a training journal. This is a log book of personal practice goals, training plans, progress toward those goals, and a ticker tape of general thoughts, comments, struggles, and successes. At its simplest the journal is a way of keeping my training front-of-mind and it helps me keep continuity from session to session.


  1. I’m not nearly that organized…Duello’s just where I go after work to avoid sitting at home ignoring all the housework I ‘should’ be doing. At least, that’s the excuse I tell myself. It’s kind of amazing what I can accomplish if I frame it as avoiding work 😛