Your willpower, just like your Iphone, has a limited daily battery life and may run out of juice if not recharged on a regular basis. You usually start your day with a full battery but then need to monitor and manage it closely to guarantee optimal performance.
In this article we will explore the importance of managing your willpower and how it affects your decisions and ultimately your business and life (and we will stop talking about your phone, because you use it already too much).
We all use our willpower, or self-control, for two main things:
First to resist desires that conflict with what we “should do” and second to make hundreds of decisions throughout each day.
Every time you force yourself to take action or you resist something that you should not do – in my case not snacking in between meals – you use your source of willpower. The same principle applies for all the decisions you take each day. The more decisions you take, and the more difficult they are, the more energy you spend.
It is the exact reason why in your supermarket the candy is displayed just before the cashier. It’s not only convenience. You have just evaluated hundreds of products which makes it much harder to resist buying them. It’s also why Steve Jobs decided to wear the same thing every day. Simple. No choices. No waste of valuable energy.
Radishes and cookies
In 1996, Roy Baumeister conducted an experiment that was downright evil:
he deprived students of food for several hours in a room that smelled of freshly baked cookies. One group were told they could only eat radishes, while the other could have the cookies. All students were then asked to complete an unsolvable puzzle.
The effect of the manipulation was immediate: the radish eaters gave up two times quicker than the cookie-eaters! The ones who were denied the cookies, had to tap into their source of willpower and had almost none left to engage in a difficult task.
Manage and grow your muscle
Since that day willpower is no longer considered “something we have or have mastered”, but a limited resource, that can be managed and grown! Like a muscle! You can literally train yourself to increase your willpower by regularly pushing your limits of resisting things or forcing yourself to do things. The more you do this, the more your muscle will grow!
This is extremely powerful, because it means that if you manage your willpower and are able to grow it further you will have more energy to take better decisions. Better decisions will lead to better results.
You notice when your willpower is drained when you feel tired physically and mentally. Everything becomes more difficult. You then need to ‘recharge’, take a break and do something that restores your energy. Take a walk, go for a run, take a nap, have some fun, etc.
This is why after a long and stressful day at the office you don’t have the willpower left to send that thank you note, go for a run, pay those bills, work on that important side project and more. Instead you go for comfort food, surf on the net and watch television. Your brain goes on automatic and instead of doing things that give you more energy you drain yourself further!
Willpower as a strategy for change?
Whatever change you plan for yourself, you better make sure your strategy is backed up with more than willpower alone.
If you want to exercise more, but you plan to go ‘when you feel like it’, chances are high you will not sustain this over time. Whenever something comes up that challenges your willpower (like bad weather), you will give yourself permission to not go.
There is no doubt there will be moments where willpower will not be enough to keep you on track. That is why you have to go one step further and make the desired change a habit. Habits are all the things we do when we are on autopilot, they are wired into our brains and consume almost no energy. That's why they last and why they are so difficult to change!
The best hours of your day
Since we know willpower is limited, it makes a lot of sense to make good use of it. Most of us go through the day without thinking what it should be used for and equally important, what it should not be used for.
The best piece of your energy should be used for important decisions or actions, for creative problem solving or planning. For everything that is not recurrent, but really making a difference. Use it to build a new habit don’t rely on it as the main ingredient for permanent change.
Don’t waste the best part of your energy on all those unimportant decisions, actions, thoughts in your life… this is critical. Organize yourself so that you are using the best hours and energy of your day to make progress in the things that actually matter.