“Willpower is the key to success. Successful people strive no matter what they feel by applying their will to overcome apathy, doubt or fear.” — Dan Millman

Before we start, consider the following statements:

“Even when I’m trying to eat healthy, sometimes I can’t help but reach out to that fresh warm cookie.”

“I promised I will go to the gym, but I was too tired in the evening and I skipped.”

“I know I have to study for the big test coming up, but I will watch another video, or chat with a friend for a bit.”

“I know I have to finish an important task, but I get distracted and often the task gets pushed to sometime later.”

Have you felt something similar before? If you haven’t, here’s a hot GIF of Megan Fox as a thank you for your time. But if you are like most people, you have faced this.

You’ll probably still click on Megan Fox GIF, especially if it’s late in the evening. it’s understandable, and is explained below 🙂

Willpower is the ability to deliberately exert control over oneself to do something or to restrain one’s own impulses. It is one of the most powerful tools one can use to have breakthrough success in any goal achievement. But to use it to its full potential, we have to first understand how it works. My goal here is to break down all aspects and myths about willpower and its application.

You see, the biggest misconception about willpower is that we can conjure it at will. And we plan our goals with this assumption, and often fall off the wagon.

Willpower is a limited source of physical energy, and must be managed well. Just like your muscles, if you constantly put them under stress with exercising, at one point, that dumbbell will fall off your hand. The more you put your willpower to use the more it depletes, and as you reach the end of the day, that’s the time you reach out for that cookie even when you decided you won’t.

Your willpower is more about the timing than anything else

There are times when we are extremely concentrated and determined to achieve a goal and accomplish extraordinary success. And then there are times where we are just not driven or motivated, and we wonder ‘why am I unable to deliver something that is really important to me, or why am I procrastinating?’

The key here is the awareness that our willpower is more about timing than anything else. It’s like seeing what goes behind a magic trick – once you have seen it, you are no longer amazed by the mysterious magical effect, rather you understand the mechanism behind it.

Two things to know to control your Willpower

#1. What is the single most important thing you want to do in the day?

That’s what you should be saving your willpower for. Identify what is the Single Most Important thing you want to achieve from your day. In all probability, this task will involve difficult cognitive reasoning or self-control.

Even though it sounds easy (and it is), you should answer this question for yourself as you will give this task focussed energy.

To have optimal results, plan your day in advance, a night before or early morning, and you’ll know what requires your focussed energy for the day.

#2. What are the things that tax your willpower? You want to avoid that until you achieve the goal of the day.

Things that tax your willpower:

1. Implementing new behavior
2. Filtering distraction
3. Resisting temptation
4. Suppressing emotion
5. Restraining aggression
6. Suppressing impulses
7. Taking a test
8. Coping with fear
9. Doing something you don’t enjoy
10. Selecting long term over short term rewards
11. Trying to impress others

A lot of things mentioned in this list may be used to achieve your most important goal for the day. If you use them elsewhere, which is easy and something that happens if you are not prepared, your goal achievement will suffer.

SOLUTIONS

1. Start with most important goal, first thing in the morning

The simplest solution is to deliberately put the most important thing of the day in the morning as your willpower muscle is well rested and charged for the unfolding of the day. It will be the easiest time to resist temptation or selecting long term over short term. So the project you are working on, studying for the test that’s coming up or exercising everyday – do it in the first part of the day.

As you go through the day, there are many things that will tax your willpower. And once you are running low on it, that’s when you reach out for that cookie when you are trying to eat healthy, or that Megan Fox’s GIF even when you want to read the post 🙂

The best solution is to go all-in with your goal achievement when you are fully loaded.

Many high achievers already follow this principle, and there is a reason they get so much more done with the same 24hrs everyone has in a day. Check outRobin Sharma’s 5am club, which I find as a brilliant example. Want to know more about having perfect days? read Biggest Myth about having a perfect day.

2. Food refills mental energy

The nervous system consumes more glucose than most other parts of the body and effortful mental activity appears to be especially expensive in the currency of glucose.

When you are actively involved in difficult cognitive reasoning or engaged in a task that requires self-control, your blood glucose drops, the effect is analogous to a runner who draws down glucose stored in the muscle during a sprint. This effect could be undone by ingesting glucose and this has been confirmed in several experiments.

That’s why another time when you display stronger willpower is right after meals (and the worst, right before lunch/dinner time).

Eat timely, the blood glucose level plays an important role in your willpower demonstration. Don’t skip meals and eat healthy so it doesn’t cloud your mind.

3. Work in willpower tax-free zone

When you clear your path to success, that’s how you consistently get there.

Your physical surroundings matter – when deep focus is required for a task, work in ‘willpower tax-free zone’ to avoid all the things that deplete your willpower. Hide, go off the radar, turn off the phone while you are focussing your willpower to get something done.

When studying for a test, your study room>public library>Starbucks cafe

4. Take breaks

A small break goes a long way. It’s a great energiser when you are invested in a task that involves a few hours at once.

Take breaks, but preferably not involving a willpower taxing element in it. Listen to your favorite song (or dance to it), stretch, take a small walk, or take a small nap.

And that’s it.

Now, I urge you to find your own best recipe for success, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this, different people have different productive hours and willpower boosters. This post aims at maximising your productivity by understanding the role & application of willpower, so you never again miss a goal you set for yourself.

Let me know your thoughts and how it goes for you below.

Footnotes

I am passionate about studying human behavior, and this post highlights my personal learnings by testing different frameworks I have come across over the past few years. If you are interested in this subject, the following books are the ones that I will highly recommend:

1. Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert, the founder of Brainpickings.org has rightfully deemed this book as a mandate for humanity.

2. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, Written by The Nobel Prize Winner, Daniel Kahneman, the book is an inventory of all the amazing features of human behavior and all the potholes we fall into over and over again, based on scientific experiments.

3. The ONE Thing by Gary Keller, This is by far the most practical, informative, and actionable book I have read on Goal Achievement and Productivity.

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