What do you really want? And, a question that might or might not be related: when you look at the ways you spend your time on a given day, what does it tell you about what you really want?

In a book I read several years ago, I think by Dr Kelly McGonigal, I encountered the fun suggestion that willpower is actually composed of three parts: the “I will,” the “I won’t,” and the “I want.” I like that a lot.

In other words, willpower might mean being able to do what we committed to doing (the “I will” — I will do some daily push-ups, let’s say), or being able to forego what we committed to foregoing (the “I won’t” — eg, I won’t eat any candy today). That’s all familiar enough.

But there’s a third part of willpower that is essential: the ability to remember why we’re doing or avoiding those things. What do we want to get or achieve at the other end of all this effort?

When the blank page is resolutely devoid of inspiration, can we remember why we wanted to start a writing habit? When the plate of deserts comes around, can we remember why we embarked on the diet?

Can we hold in our minds the dream of a completed book, published, sitting on someone’s shelf, underlined and dogeared and with little notes in the margin? Can we feel pleasure at the thought of a slimmer self, showing skin at the beach, a hint of musculature visible where before there was just flab?

The ability to stay focused on the goal, on the goal itself, over the months or years of hard work that it takes to get there, is a major, major factor in our success or failure.

And it also just makes the whole process far more enjoyable, to be focused not on the momentary pain but on future joy. It’s so much fun.

Don’t we normally assume that living in a fantasy world is a sort of escapism, a way of disconnecting from reality? Stop dreaming, we might hear, and start acting.

But the truth is, it’s time to start dreaming. It’s time to inhabit a fantasy world.

I find it so pleasant and motivating to think about the person I could be if I stick with my good habits.

Five years seems to be an especially good time frame to look ahead to. If you put five years into learning a language, how fluent could you be? Five years of spending a few minutes a day writing, and how many things could you have published?

What I like about the five year mark is that it seems pretty ideal for filling me with wonder. Five years of a good habit can accomplish some amazing things with relatively little effort. Five years isn’t unthinkable; if I can keep the habit going for a year or two, then there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to keep it for five years.

And most of all, five years is a great leaping off point. It entices the mind to think, if I could make all that happen in just five years with so little effort, how much more could I do in ten, or in twenty? Five years of accomplishments is amazing, but even more amazing is that five years could be just the beginning.

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