Kristjan Vingel

The willpower myth

July 20, 2019

We tend to think that some people have stronger willpower than we do. If we give in on something, we simply blame it on our weak willpower. We think we're not cut for this.

The truth is, it's not so much about having a strong willpower rather than understanding what willpower is and working around it.

For example, if you try to lose weight, yet you have high-calorie foods around your house, e.g., chocolate on the table, then it will be merely a matter of time when you eat that chocolate. You can use your willpower to resist it for a little while, but only for a certain time. This way, you'll be destined to fail.

The same goes for having a smartphone next to you when you try to focus. Just the fact that you can see your phone and hear its notifications means you will check it sooner or later.

The solution is to get rid of the chocolate and get rid of the phone.

Imagine your willpower like the green battery bar on your phone. In the morning, when you wake up, it's 100%. Throughout the day it depletes. By the evening it's in the red, with few percentages left. No wonder it's so much harder to force yourself to do the things after work than it is to do them at the beginning of your day.

The solution is to push everything important to the beginning of the day. Do these things first when your willpower bar is at its fullest. You have a much bigger chance of actually doing them.

It's possible also to train your willpower, to increase the capacity of your battery, so to speak.

Every time you give in to your impulses, you train your brain to give in to wants. Every time you check your phone when you have thought of checking your phone, you train your brain to do that. Over time it becomes harder and harder to resist. The opposite is also true: every time you don't give in, you train your brain not to give in.

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Kristjan Vingel