Willpower Muscle Strategy

I begin this post with a question:

What drains you of your energy?

What tasks leave you feeling tired or unmotivated to move forward? What about your decision making? Do you feel that having so many different choices to choose from drains you mentally? 300 channels on satellite, 15 different brands of corn flakes, 50 different task manager apps to choose from…need I say more? Once you finally make an important decision, do you sometimes feel the need to drop everything and just veg out?

Decision making, problem solving, perception work, creative work, resisting temptation…all these skills require a certain amount of focus and willpower. And willpower requires energy. And willpower-energy is a limited but renewable resource. When it’s depleted, you can bet that some of the easier decisions/mental work become a lot tougher, and the tougher mental work, well, you can do that tomorrow. Walking Dead and a pizza awaits! Think of your willpower as a muscle: it tires after use, but grows stronger over consistent use.

Consider this study by Roy F. Baumeister, author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, (co-authored with John Tierney): A group of students who had been instructed to fast entered a laboratory that was thick with the aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Before them on a table were a plate of the cookies, a bowl of candy, and a bowl of radishes. The students were divided into two groups: one group was instructed to eat the cookies and candy, the other group could only eat the radishes. Researchers observed the students from a one way mirror/window. The radish only group used every ounce of available of their willpower to resist the temptation of the cookies, which is shown in part 2 of this test. After a period of time, both groups were invited into a second room and instructed to work on geometric puzzles, which were actually known to be insoluble. The cookie/candy only grouped worked on the puzzles diligently on average about twenty minutes, while the radish only group gave up after about eight minutes. Their energy stores for problem solving were used up in the previous problem of having to resist.

Over time, your willpower “muscle” can be strengthened. The more it’s used, the stronger it becomes, and it seems to cross over to other categories. The willpower used in resisting sweets is also the same willpower used in creating the habit of consistently writing in a journal every night, or sticking with a tough problem at work, or making a risky business decision.

Your willpower muscle is refreshed after a good nights sleep, and is reinforced after quality meals and snacks throughout the day. Knowing this, it would make sense to strategically schedule your tougher willpower-required actions in the early part of the day, and after meals. Naps seem to give a boost to your reserve, so does a session of meditation.

Armed with this information, I leave you with this question: What tasks can you reschedule in your day to take advantage of your willpower energy fuel tanks?

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