Will Power and the Importance of Habits

Ego depletion refers to the loss of a personal resource (and associated breakdown in performance) due to the previous exertion of self-control or other effortful and willful acts of the self. Ego depletion may be especially important in understanding why self-control fails and what the processes are that underlie self-control.”

“What shall I have for dinner?”

“Shall I go to the gym?”

“What time should I set my alarm for tomorrow?”

These are just a few example questions people ask themselves daily.  These are questions that need to be answered. In order to answer these questions you need the mental strength to make a decision.  Regardless of the answer to that question your brain has used resources to come to that decision.  Have you ever thought how many times this happens to you in a day?  Have you ever thought of the toll that takes on your energy…. On your will power?

For the majority of us our day to day lives require a lot of decisions to be made.  In our occupation and in our personal lives, trade-offs have to be made all the time and it can be draining!

Let’s break this down…. What is ‘Decision Fatigue’?

“Willpower – Rediscovering Your Greatest Strength” is a book written by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney… this book has changed the way I have approached day to day life.  It teaches you to think of willpower as a muscle that depletes over the course of the day due to the amount of decisions or trade-offs you have to make.  Unfortunately, this leads to poor decision making when you need that will power the most.

“When will power is low you are less likely to make difficult trade-offs…”

Let me set the stereotypical scene – It’s 6:00 at the office on a Wednesday evening…

You have your gym bag there ready to go…

You are feeling tired and the gym does not feel appealing… the questions start to creep in to your head – “Well… if I wake up really early tomorrow I can still get in my 4 sessions for the week in…”

Tracy, the office social sec (really painting the scene now!), strolls over…. “Drink? Today has been a nightmare I need one…”

Done.  Within 10 minutes you’re at the pub with a glass of vino.  Next thing you know you wake up at 7:45 the next morning with a stinking hangover and no time to get to the gym before work.

If that hasn’t happened to you in some way or another several times then you are a liar!  Now that we have played out the scenario, what safe guards can we put in place to help with our ego depletion / decision fatigue?

 

Self-Awareness

Firstly, self-awareness has to play a vital role, as we are all different and our poor habits are triggered from something within us.  If you do not realise where you are going wrong then how can you address it?

“Self-awareness involves a process of comparing yourself to standards… Changing personal behaviour to meet standards requires willpower but will power without self-awareness is useless”

Willpower when understood is such a powerful tool.  However, you need to understand yourself better to be able to implement it.

 

The Importance of Habits

When one of the masters of self-control David Blaine stops doing his unreal stunts he takes his foot off the gas and rests…. If you don’t know David Blaine’s work I can tell you that they take an unthinkable amount of self-control/will power.  Think about spending 63 sleepless hours inside a giant block of ice, as an example…

David Blaine is a self-described endurance artist.  One of the best of all time.  What happens when he stops?  Essentially, he admits it all goes to shit!

He doesn’t exercise any will power when he is not training for a stunt and can gain up to 50-60 pounds in 3 weeks.  He states the exact reason why this happens – he has no motivation.  Because he has no motivation he stops doing all of the little habits that make him one of the greatest examples of willpower ever to be born.

“For me that’s what discipline is.  It’s repetition and practice…”

How did Henry Morton Stanley the great explorer keep focused on the goal he had been set?  The explorer went to hell and back travelling Africa, even amongst the disease, death and violence he remained focused on the goal at hand.  How did he keep that focus and not give in?

Stanley would wake up every morning and do two things: shave and write in his diary – these habits to Stanley were small achievements that set him up for the challenging day ahead.  By doing these daily habits and rituals that took little to no energy he would conserve will power for what was to come later.

 

Accountability / Pre Commitment

Blaine and Stanley have managed to get through all tasks with the presence of making a pre-commitment.  Locking yourself into a virtuous path. Saying you are going to do something motivates you but also keeps you accountable to yourself and others.

If saying you are going to do something to others is not enough then you have to find ways of being self-accountable.  In this day and age, with the technology we have available to us, being self-accountable is easier than ever before.  Whether this be financially, nutritionally, physically… you name it there will be an app or gadget that can help you.

A brief example…  You have been set an assignment at work that requires you to have it complete by the end of the day.  You start the task but after 5 minutes you find yourself watching Youtube videos and scrolling on Facebook.  Then you find yourself shopping on Amazon… Having all of these resources at your exposal can deplete you, making completing that work task much harder.

Simply knowing these websites are available is depleting enough. How can you avoid this….?  Easy…Remove them!  Using technology like https://freedom.to is a sure-fire way for you to eliminate distractions and focus on a single task, build good work habits and essentially be more productive.

 

Action

When people go about instigating a big life change I would say 2/3 of them approach it in an incorrect fashion.  Let’s use New Years as it is the cliché time where people decide they are going to have a life turnaround….

“In 2018… I want to drink less, quit smoking, gym five times a week, find a boyfriend/girlfriend and get promoted at work.”

You may laugh at seeing that example but I have spoken to so many people that have listed their intentions for the new year like that.  Let me first say that statement above IS all manageable, however the most important thing you can do is immediately go at each one all guns blazing.

See below an example of The Inspiration Space : Habit Tracker template which you can download the T.I.S Habit Tracker.  This best piece of advice I could give you on this topic is to initially pick two daily habits that are going to benefit you.  Depending on your goals this could vary.

By doing this you have enabled yourself to lay the foundations.  By ticking of these daily goals each day, they become habits.  Once they become habits they are just things you day without thinking, they don’t require a decision. As long as these are beneficial to your mental or physical health then I can guarantee you will preserve will power for those moments where you need it most.

 

We Are All Human

Of all people I have to work very hard at keeping these willpower safeguards in place.  However, like absolutely everyone, I slip and they all come tumbling down which steers me off course slightly… sometimes massively!

However, it is understanding the concept of willpower, how you can preserve it and how you can perform so much better when you do so, that is crucial.

So what do I want you to do this week?

  1. Download and listen to my next episode – Climbing Mount Everest – The Mind-set It Takes to Climb the Seven Summits – Mark Pinnock.
  2. Buy and start reading “Willpower – Rediscovering Our Greatest Strength”.
  3. Don’t be so hard on yourself when you make a terrible decision. After it is done it is done.  Sit back and evaluate your behaviour and start to put a plan in place to safeguard it happening again.
  4. Keep yourself accountable. Please subscribe to my email list to be sent the habit tracker I / my clients use to stay on track and feel in control.
  5. Subscribe to The Inspiration Space podcast on iTunes here to listen to my latest episodes. My next guest is a testament to how exercising willpower can push you beyond your capabilities.

 

Have a great week.  Huge love.

Haydn