In the book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney, I learned that what we call willpower is not something I have in unlimited supply. In fact, every single thing for which I must use self-control depletes a little bit of that willpower until it’s just plain gone. I read about study after study (and I must say, these authors have a way of making scientific studies entertaining–I loved reading them!) which discovered this fact. Which basically means that it’s much easier to focus your willpower on one thing at a time. So go on a diet, get out of debt, or write a novel–just don’t try to do all three at once because you’re more likely to fail at all of them.
This has become one of those life defining books for me. I read it at a time when I was constantly on the edge of total burnout. This book helped me start to think strategically about the energy that I exert on various projects and tasks.
The writers demonstrate how the energy exerted to go to the gym is the same energy that we use to avoid fast food, to read a book, or go to work. They talk about very specific strategies for conserving your energy and willpower. They talk about ways to increase your willpower’s strength. It turns out it can be exercised like any other muscle.
They couch all of this important information with real life stories that illustrate how these principles work in real peoples’ lives. The book is written by a psychologist and a journalist, each adding his own value to the work. It’s one of my most personal favorite books, a slice of information that I will be referencing the rest of my life.
The best ideas from the book in my opinion are:
1.Willpower is limited
2. Willpower must be managed
3. When trying not to do something, like eating cake while on a diet, don’t say that you can’t have it; instead say that you can have it when the diet is over.
4. Willpower is directly correlated to the amount of glucose going to your brain. So eat foods that burn slowly and in the event that you need a quick boost to willpower, consume some sugar (and know that there will be a resulting low after the high).
5. Even trivial decisions deplete willpower.
6. Willpower can increase with practice.