Defeating the Three Demons of Failure

Have you ever tried to make a change in your life? Maybe you had a New Year’s Resolution, or maybe you’ve just wanted to do something different. I certainly have, more times than I can count. However, when I’ve tried to make big changes, more often than not, I’m motivated for a week and suddenly I run out of willpower or I’m not interested any more. Maybe you can relate? It took me a long time to figure out why- it’s because of the Three Demons of Failure. If you’re going to change, you better know the secrets to defeating them.

The first of the Three Demons that will fight you if you try making a change is Inertia. If you’re familiar with Newton’s First Law of Motion, you’ll know that an object in motion will tend to stay in motion unless acted on by an opposing force. More importantly for those of us trying to change, an object at rest tends to stay at rest. This is the law of Inertia. This is the Demon that stops you from getting off the couch- and if you can’t get off the couch, you can’t get started. He’s the gatekeeper that guards the passageway towards a better version of yourself- and if you can’t defeat him, you’ll never get started.

If you haven’t guessed it already, his weakness is the Spell of Motivation- which stuns the demon and lets you run past him. The Spell of Motivation is great- it gets you moving, and it’s not too hard to learn- there are plenty of motivational speakers, speeches, books, songs, and so on. However, the Spell only works long enough to get you moving past the gate. Once you’ve crossed the threshold, you better be ready for the other two Demons, or you’ll get spit right back out to the start. This is where most people fail- he is the easiest Demon to defeat, but if you’re not prepared for the rest of the journey, you’ll just have to fight him again and again.

The second Demon is far more sinister- he pulls at your heels and tries to slow you down. He’ll whisper things in your ear like, “I’ll do it tomorrow,” or “I’ll just cheat today.” His greatest trick isn’t in stopping you, it’s in convincing you to stop yourself- and once you’re stopped, you’re right back at the gates with Inertia. This Demon’s name is Friction- he’s the stress between what you were doing and what you are doing now. As we learned earlier, the Spell of Motivation is great for the sprint past the gate, but it wears off too fast to work on Friction.

What you will need to defeat this Demon are the Shield of Willpower and the Sword of Commitment. The Shield of Willpower will protect you from his temptations- but how do we get this Shield? Willpower is an interesting thing- it works almost like a muscle. Anyone can go to the gym and work out really hard the first day (that’s Motivation,) but if your muscles aren’t trained for it, you’ll be too sore and tired the second day to go back. What’s worse is if you used to go to the gym and come back thinking you can do what you used to do and realize that you can’t, you’ll run out of motivation even faster.

How do we train our willpower, then? Start small- find something you know for sure that you can do, and do that for 10 days straight. For example, you could make your bed or clean your room. That may seem silly, but that’s the reason so many people fail to find the Shield of Willpower- they confuse it with Motivation. I could be as excited and pumped as possible, but I couldn’t bench 300 right now if I wanted to- and if I tried and failed right off the bat, I’d run out of Motivation immediately. Willpower is the understanding that if you want to bench the 300, you’re going to have to start with the 50.

The Shield of Willpower is no good without the Sword of Commitment, and vice-versa. Sometimes you have to block Friction, but other times the best defense is a good offense. This is where the Sword of Commitment comes in. Let’s say one day you don’t have enough willpower to do your full workout- if you don’t have Commitment, you won’t do anything and you’re one step closer to being back at the start. However, if you’re committed, you’ll just do a light workout instead. This is a way to preserve your momentum, even when you don’t have the energy to operate at 100%.

With the Shield and Sword combined, you can beat back the Demon of Friction long enough to get up to speed- but there’s one problem. What’s the plan now?

This is exactly when the final Demon, Habit, makes his move. Just when you thought you had a good streak going, Habit steps in and reminds you that you normally go out with your friends on the weekend- and just like that, you skip the gym. Once he hits you, he leaves you open for Friction to come in for a sneak attack. In almost no time, you’re back right where you started, dealing with Inertia. The worst part is that it’s even harder to start over once you’ve failed, and if you fail too many times, you’ll become hopeless.

There is a secret for defeating the Demon of Habit, however- you need to create the most powerful of all the artifacts, the Scroll of Scheduling. As my father often told me as a child, “Failure to plan is just planning to fail,” and this is absolutely the truth. To create the Scroll, you need to make a plan and schedule your time out appropriately. What I do is schedule a 10 day challenge for myself, and before the end of the 10 days, I come up with the next one. It’s much easier to complete a series of four short 10-day challenges than it is to do something for 40 days in a row.

The key is to work up to your new skill over time and maintain it for long enough to become a habit. Depending on who you ask, this is somewhere between three weeks and two months (which is why I like 40 days, and it just sounds cooler.)

With the Spell of Motivation you’ve gotten past the Demon of Inertia. With the Sword of Commitment and the Shield of Willpower, you’ve beaten back the Demon of Friction. After all that, you used the Scroll of Scheduling to help you outsmart the Demon of Habit. You’ve done it! You’ve accomplished something and made a meaningful change in your life! There is one last danger, however- Complacency. Complacency is the worst of all- the Demon that we become once we think we’ve made it or accomplished what we set out to do.

Never let yourself become Complacent. You have to continue to challenge yourself, start the journey over again and see what else you can accomplish. Now that you have the tools to do it intelligently, self-improvement will become easier and easier because you’ve built up momentum.

Now, go forth and defeat your Demons and conquer Failure!

Garrett Dailey

Garrett Dailey is a formerly homeless D.I.Y. philosopher who believes that one cannot understand the universe without first understanding themselves. To that end, he has committed to a lifelong journey to become the best version of himself, and in the process, create a community for others who wish to do the same. May we all be led from ignorance to the truth. Pros aion Aletheia aionios.

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