When hurricane Irene was threatening to take out the whole 1-95 corridor, we on the East coast made sure we had stocked up on the essentials. Batteries, strawberry Poptarts, and wine. Liquor stores reported huge runs on booze just before the storm.
The nice thing about Chardonnay is you can see when you are running low. And when you do run out, it’s easy enough to get more.
The #1 thing not to run out of
What’s even more crucial to have on hand, and not just during storms, is willpower. Yet because it’s not tangible and you can’t buy it by the bottle, people assume they have an unlimited amount. Just grit your teeth, man up and control yourself. Instant willpower, right?
Why sex and drugs and donuts all seem like better choices after 6pm
In the book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, the authors John Tierney and Roy Baumeister show we have a finite amount of willpower. And once we’ve used our daily allowance, we make all sorts of bad decisions. As Baumeister explains, “Making decisions uses the very same willpower that you use to say no to doughnuts, drugs or illicit sex.” It’s a prime reason people are much better at consistently working out in the morning and eating more healthful breakfasts than dinners. By the end of the day, they find all type of excuses not to work out, raid a vending machine, and have another drink.
Stop wasting your prime decision power on fluff
That time you spend crafting the perfect text message? Slogging through those emails? Or figuring out just the right topping for your frozen yogurt? It drains away the prime decision power, aka willpower, you could have used on improving your business strategy, writing your speech, or figuring out which candidate to hire. So keep that in mind when you get the urge to check your email every 5 minutes.
How to conserve your willpower
The best decision makers understand how limited willpower is. They preemptively avoid overwhelming themselves with too many decisions. The authors recommend:
- Don’t schedule back to back meetings.
- Set time limits. For example, spend a 20 minute block of time answering email and then stop. That gives enough time just to answer the most important ones. A good reason to become more efficient at email.
- Don’t go to all you can eat buffets.
- Set appointments with friends. It’s easy to blow off a workout. Not so easy if you agreed to meet your friend. Or commit to your Wingman.
- Get enough sleep. Nothing saps your decision making power more than sleep deprivation.
- Don’t go too long without a small snack. Your brain runs on glucose. If your glucose (blood sugar) is low, so is your willpower.
Be like Odysseus. Protect yourself from yourself
In The Odyssey, Odysseus wants to hear the ethereal voices of the Sirens. But he knows if he does, he’ll be so drawn to them, he’ll crash his ship into the rocks. Instead of telling himself to “man up”, he recognizes that his willpower has limitations. So he puts beeswax in his crew’s ears and ties himself up to the mast. He protects himself from his natural inclination to listen to those damnable voices.
Do you spend too much time watching TV? Disconnect your cable. Can’t eat just one chip? Don’t keep them in the house. Send crazy alcohol emails at 1am? Gmail has an app that requires you do a complex math problem before it actually gets sent.
- Spend 10 minutes figuring out all the daily decisions that can either be eliminated or automated
- Start scheduling your most important thinking time in the morning and not right before lunch
- Get stuck in good habits so you don’t have to waste time thinking about them
Photo courtesy of CarChatWithPaul
What tips do you have for conserving your willpower? Spill below.
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