Willpower Part III: How to Strengthen Your Willpower and 20 Ways to Conserve It

by Brett & Kate McKay on January 15, 2012 · 49 comments

in A Man's Life, Personal Development

In the first post in this series, we discussed the nature of willpower, noting that is a real mental energy.

In the second post, we explored the way in which this mental energy is a finite resource and how it can be depleted through the exercising of self-control and the making of decisions.

Now if willpower is a real, finite energy, the question that naturally arises is this: What can I do to strengthen, conserve, and harness this force to help me reach my full potential? The answer to that question is what we will be diving into today.

How to Strengthen Your Willpower

While there are many ways to conserve your willpower, there’s really just one way to strengthen it.

By working on any goal or habit that exercises your self-control.

Remember when we talked about how willpower is like a muscle, and that just like a muscle, you have to exhaust it in the short-term in order to build its strength in the long-term? When you work to change a habit, you deplete your willpower in the struggle, but over time, the strength of your willpower muscle increases from these exercises, making you better able to take on future tasks.

Your willpower is strengthened not only by tackling big goals, but also by doing anything that gets your brain out of its comfort zone—things like using your left hand instead of your right (if you’re a righty), working on your posture throughout the day, and trying to stop swearing have all been shown to increase the overall stamina of a person’s willpower.

The best part about creating a new habit is that not only does it strengthen your willpower, it also frees up more of your willpower fuel for other things. When a decision becomes a habit, it draws little, if any, willpower from your supply. The more good decisions you can make habitual, the less taxes on your willpower tank you’ll experience throughout the day.

This is why people with stronger self-control actually spend less time resisting desires than those with weaker self-control. By creating good habits, they minimize the number of temptations they’ll be faced with by making as many decisions as automatic as possible.

How to Conserve Your Willpower

Okay, so in order to strengthen your willpower, you need to work towards reaching a goal or changing/creating a habit. But everyone who’s ever tried to do that knows it’s not easy! How do you get enough willpower to strive towards and achieve your aims in the first place?

They key is to consciously conserve this force, keeping it from being frittered away on dumb stuff and saving it for the things that are most important to you. What follows are 20 ways to do that. This is incredibly vital knowledge; the man who learns how to harness this force of greatness is he who reaches his goals, makes better decisions, and progresses farthest in life.

Note: Some of these points are interesting and important topics in and of themselves, not only as they concern willpower, but life in general, and we had so much to say that the first draft of this post grew into a truly epic tome. So a ton was cut out (it’s still long though!), but we will be revisiting many of these points with their own in-depth articles throughout the year (a comprehensive post on goal setting will arrive next week, in fact). In the meantime, if you are interested in learning more about the very fascinating studies that back up the efficacy of these techniques, pick up a copy of the book this series has been based on: Willpower: by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney.

1. Only work on one goal at a time. If you only take one idea from this post, let it be this: only work on one goal or habit at a time. Because your willpower is a finite resource, when you spend your willpower on one thing, you have less it available for other things. Thus when you try to change multiple habits at the same time, what you’re doing is allocating just one sliver of your willpower pie to each goal. The result is not surprising: failure in most, if not all of them.

Instead, you want to funnel as much of your willpower fuel towards one thing as you can. Changing any habit is like driving an auto up a very steep mountain—the engine on your willpower-mobile needs as much power as possible to get to the top and over the other side without puttering out and sliding back.

2. Make changes during periods of calm. If your willpower is a finite resource, then you don’t want to attempt big goals and habit changes when you’ve got a lot on your plate. These stressors will suck away your willpower, leaving you without enough of it to reach your big goal.

3. Make your goal as clear and specific as possible. While some cynics scoff at those who make New Year’s resolutions, the resolvers get the last laugh; people who make formal New Year’s resolutions are ten times more likely to reach their goals than those with the same aims and motivation, but who never clearly articulate their aims.

Hoping to reach a goal without clearly defining it is like trying to find a place by simply driving around; you’re not sure exactly where you’re headed and thus fruitlessly burn up your fuel—or willpower.

4. Set things up on autopilot. When I wrote this post about how to stop mindlessly surfing the internet, I recommended implementing firewall software that blocks you from looking at certain sites at set times. Some criticized this approach as insufficiently manly, arguing that I should just work to overcome my mindless surfing through willpower alone. And that would be a fine idea…if I wanted to make that my one big goal for a time. However, that’s way down on my goal list—I’ve got more important things I’m working on for which I need every possible drop of my willpower supply. So maybe someday I’ll get down to making the ability to resist mindless surfing a habit, but in the meantime, I want to minimize any willpower sucks in my life by making that an automatic decision.

5. Don’t make big decisions on an empty stomach. The glucose in your bloodstream is part of what fuels the energy source of willpower, and it comes from any food you eat that contains carbohydrates. Exercising self-control depletes relatively large amounts of this glucose, and when glucose goes down, so does your willpower. No food=no glucose=no willpower=risk aversion and poor decisions.

This is why you should never go into anything important—a meeting, an interview, a test–on an empty stomach. And why you shouldn’t schedule say, a pitch meeting, right before lunch if you want to increase your chances of getting a yes.

If you need your glucose hit right away, eat something sugary, as this will get the glucose into your bloodstream and to your willpower supply quickly. But if you have time, eat high protein, low glycemic foods—the glucose will take an hour to get into your bloodstream, but you’ll avoid a sugar crash and such foods are better for you in general.

By the way, this connection between food, glucose, and willpower is one of the reasons dieting is so difficult. To shed pounds you need to eat less, and to eat less you need willpower, and to get willpower you need to eat. This conundrum explains why willpower has been shown to be more effective for making improvements in areas like school and work rather than one’s waistline; people with high self-control are in fact only slightly better at maintaining a healthy weight (they do exercise more, but this has much less effect on one’s weight than diet does). Willpower experts thus recommend trying to lose weight by making very subtle changes to one’s diet instead of drastic reductions.

6. Make to-do lists. Once you finish a task, your brain largely forgets about it. But unfinished tasks have been shown to stick in your head and jangle around. Your brain hates loose ends and will keep nudging you to do something about them.

The problem with these loose ends camping on your cranium is that they’re subtly eating up your willpower. They’re like so-called “vampire appliances,” appliances that are plugged in all the time and suck up a little bit of electricity even when you’re not actually using them.

To un-plug your vampire to-do’s, you simply need to take the loose ends out of your head and put them down on paper. The classic to-do list can really work wonders for your willpower. Be sure to make your list of to-do’s as specific as possible—as GTD guru David Allen puts it, you need to figure out your next action on something. So don’t write: “Plan trip.” Write: “Search for best airline fare.” And once you cross that off, your new next action would be “Buy tickets.” And so on.

7. Make a precommitment. You’re doing a Paleo-diet and eating only things like meats and veggies. Your friends invite you out to a restaurant, and you think, “That won’t be a problem. I’ll just get a steak.” But when you arrive and sit down, the waiter brings out a basket of warm, freshly baked rolls, and you shout, “Hot damn! This must be what heaven smells like!” And in the blink of an eye, you’ve stuffed two rolls in your mouth.

What happened to you in there? You were so sure you could handle the temptation. But you fell victim to what’s called the “hot-cold empathy gap.” When you’re contemplating a scenario from your easy chair, you underestimate how difficult resisting the temptation will be in the heat of the moment.

To prevent the hot-cold empathy gap, you need to make a “precommitment,” the creating of a contingency plan so that when you’re in the heat of the moment, and decide to give in, the option of giving in isn’t available.

For example, if you’re going to go shopping with someone, but you don’t want to spend any money, don’t bring a credit card, or bring a set amount of cash.

If you’re trying to cut down on your alcohol consumption, keep your house spirits-free.

And if you’re a Paleo guy, tell the waiter as soon as you sit down not to bring over the rolls at all (hopefully you have very understanding, or gluten-allergy-suffering friends).

8. Create routines.

If you have a set schedule for the day and a regular routine, you don’t have to dither about what you should be doing at any given moment. “It’s 10:00 pm—time to start reading for 30 minutes before bed.”

9. Build self-awareness through monitoring.

Self-awareness simply means consciously knowing what you’re doing each day, and it’s tightly linked with self-control.

Most people are pretty good at hiding themselves…from themselves. They have only the vaguest idea of how much time they’ve wasted surfing the internet, how much food they’ve eaten, and what they’ve spent that month. But if you don’t know where you’re at in a certain pursuit, there’s no way you’ll reach your goal; you won’t know what you need to change, how far you’ve come, and how far you have to go.

So look for ways to monitor, gather data, and “quantify” your life. Keep a food diary of what you eat each day. Weigh yourself every morning (while you may have heard weight loss gurus tell you this is a bad idea, studies have shown that those who weigh themselves daily are more successful at shedding the pounds). Use websites like Mint.com to keep track of your finances, and apps that track how you spend your time online. And so on. The more clear reminders you have of both your progress and your backsliding, the more likely it is you’ll stay on track.

10. Set up an accountability system. It’s not only helpful to monitor your own progress, but to have someone else looking over your shoulder as well. Keep yourself accountable by making a bet with a friend, setting an appointment to work out with a buddy, posting your progress publicly on a blog or on Facebook, or using a site like stickK.com.

11. Tackle the tough things first.

Throughout the day, you’re going to be exercising your self-control and making decisions, which will slowly deplete your willpower until eventide. So tackle your most important tasks as soon as you can in the morning, when your willpower tank is full and fresh. When taking a test, do the hardest problems first, and save the easy ones for later. And forget that notion about not going to bed angry with your spouse—nighttime is the worst time for arguments; your willpower is low, your capacity for impulse-control is diminished, and you’re likely to say things you’ll regret. It is absolutely amazing what a good night’s sleep will do—problems that felt all-consuming the night before will seem completely insignificant when you get out of bed. If you and your wife need to have an important discussion, do it in the morning…ideally after you’ve both eaten breakfast.

12. Get enough sleep and take naps. Sleep refreshes your willpower supply. So don’t skimp on getting your zzzz’s at night, and take a nap between one self-control exhausting task and the next.

13. Limit your choices. You already know that having too many choices creates restlessness. But it also saps your willpower as well. As you might remember from last time, your willpower takes the biggest hit when you lock in a decision, but it also gets burned up simply through the process of shopping around and weighing different choices. With all that browsing, you might think you’d end up with the best choice, since you sifted through so many options. But the shopping lowers your willpower, which makes you risk averse and unwilling to make a decision that shuts out other possibilities. Basically, this means that in the pursuit of perfection, you end up with nothing, instead of something that wasn’t flawless, but would have made you happy.

This is why speed daters have better luck finding a partner than those who use online dating sites; drowning in choices, the latter get stuck in perpetual browsing.

Instead of endlessly shopping around, figure out a criteria for what you want, and when you find something that works for you, stick with it– whether it’s a product, a church, or a lady friend.

14. Don’t try to work or make important decisions when you’re sick.

When you’re sick, your immune system uses a bunch of your body’s glucose to fight off the infection. It pulls that glucose from everywhere, including your willpower supply.

15. Distract yourself.

In the first post in this series, we talked about a study done with children who were told they could eat the single marshmallow in front of them, or wait 15 minutes to double their prize. Many of the children were able to hold out for that second marshmallow with a technique even a four-year-old can understand: distracting yourself. They focused on something else other than the marshmallow.

Turns out the old maxim was right: idle hands are the devil’s romper room. This is something I’ve seen over and over in my life—when I’ve got a lot of time to kill, and only the temptation to think about, I give in. But when my life is filled with activity and friends and interests, I’ll forget about whatever it is I’m supposed to be avoiding.

16. Keep yourself and your surroundings tidy and clean. There is a strong connection between external order and the strength of your willpower. In one study, some of the participants were taken into a neat lab, while the others were placed in a messy one. Those in the latter group exhibited less self-control: they ate less healthy snacks, gave up quicker on tasks, and were more likely to take a small amount of money up front, instead of waiting a week to increase the payout.

So if someone ever says, “Why are you making your bed? It’s pointless.” You can now answer: “Because I’m building my willpower, foo!”

17. Surround yourself with those who have similar goals. The people you surround yourself with have a big impact on who you become. Whether it’s smoking, weight, happiness, drinking, even study habits and GPA, research has shown that your group of friends influences your behavior–for better or worse. If you and your friends are all working towards the same things, it’s a lot easier to stick with it. But if you’re the lone man out, always swimming upstream against what all your friends are doing, you’re going to use up more of your willpower, and be more likely to struggle and fail.

18. Keep it out of sight and out of mind. Researchers found that office workers ate 1/3 more candy when the bowl was sitting out in the open than when it was placed in a drawer. Why? Because every decision we make depletes our willpower, and every time the workers passed the bowl, they had to decide not to take a piece, and each decision wore away at their willpower until they eventually gave in. And this is true for a great many things–not just bowls of candy. For example, don’t study in your dorm room if you’re going to have to keep resisting the urge to crawl into your bed and take a nap.

I’ve found the opposite is true as well: in sight, in mind. If you place a book you’ve been meaning to read by the john or a kettlebell by the couch, you’ll be more likely to pick them up and use them.

19. Delay gratification instead of nixing it altogether. Cutting something out of your life entirely increases the desire for it (forbidden fruit!) and increases the degree of binge if you finally give in, while postponing a pleasure both diminishes the strength of the craving and allows you to be satisfied with less when you do indulge. This is why it can be very effective to allow yourself one cheat day a week on your diet where you get to eat whatever you want, and why the Pomodoro Technique (working for 45 minutes straight and then taking a 15 minute break) can help you study more effectively. When you know you have a scheduled break/indulgence coming up, it becomes much easier to stick with a program without feeling overwhelmed by what you can’t do or have at the moment. (Of course this doesn’t work with things you want to go cold turkey on—don’t schedule one day a week where you smoke 5 packs of cigarettes).

20. Have a higher purpose. Having a higher purpose helps conserve your willpower because the structure and path it provides makes many of your decisions, if not automatic, then at least a lot clearer. This is one of the reasons there is a strong correlation between having strong self-control and being religious (this link is also due to the greater monitoring the religious get–both from God and fellow congregants, and the way the requirements of faith give the willpower muscle plenty of exercise through things like prayer, meditation, fasting, service, ect.).

The non-religious can get the same willpower-conserving benefit of living a purpose-driven life; they just have to work harder to create their purpose from within. This is done by eschewing instant gratification for honest-to-goodness ideals, and finding a reason for your goals deeper and less fleeting than the superficial. Do you want to get in shape for the ladies, or to become superhuman? Do you want to do well at your job to make big bucks, or to leave a legacy?

Willpower Series:
The Force of Greatness
How Your Willpower is Depleted
How to Strengthen Your Willpower and 20 Ways to Conserve It

{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

1 LuiAce January 15, 2012 at 6:26 pm

Great Article!

2 Konrad January 15, 2012 at 7:22 pm

This article is great. I am up for a promotion at work and when i get it (99.9% chance I will) I have made plans to have a masters degree and be entirely debt free in under 5 years. This seems daunting but I have done the math and the planning and have broken the steps down into yearly, monthly, and daily habits that will make it happen. I will use the tools in this series of articles to assist me in reaching my goals.

3 Michael January 15, 2012 at 9:42 pm

Fantastic article. This is my first post on this site (I’ve been reading for a few months now) and while there are so many excellent articles, so far I think this one is best yet. I’ve recently started being a vegan, and I’m also removing processed food from my diet as well (aside from minimally processed foods, such as old fashioned oats). Avoiding animal products is easy now, but there’s always that temptation of junk food. A week in, and I haven’t given in yet! It gets easier by the day. Anyways, very useful tips at the right time! Thanks!

4 Luke January 15, 2012 at 10:05 pm

I’m there with you MIchael. I went vegetarian a year ago, and it was difficult at first. However, now it is second nature. Good luck with your endeavour.

5 Jonathan January 15, 2012 at 10:16 pm

An additional technique I learned in college is to break down large projects into several units to make them more manageable.

6 Tim Royce January 15, 2012 at 10:27 pm

Quite a fine series of articles. An excellent addition to a well rounded man.

7 Tony January 15, 2012 at 10:49 pm

“17. Surround yourself with those who have similar goals.”

I’m pretty sure this has been a huge part of my lack of focus since graduating from school. There was a very pervasive attitude of nearly constant creative work, and I’m fairly certain that when i actually get it together and get that dream job, I’ll be in a similarly charged environment. Now, though, in the interim, I can’t help feeling stuck at home with my entire local social circle as a huge distraction rather than a motivating force.

8 CodyC January 15, 2012 at 11:25 pm

Wow great article! Its so funny that you mentioned the Paleo diet because I just started it about three weeks ago and these willpower articles have been helping me keep at it.

9 Douglas Aldrich January 16, 2012 at 12:36 am

I’ve been waiting to read Part III for a while now, and I’m very pleased with it. Outstanding stuff you have here Brett and Kate! Thank you once again!

10 nivant January 16, 2012 at 1:05 am

great article. I think we all unconsciously know one or more ways that are mentioned above. We just never apply it in our life.

11 Dave January 16, 2012 at 3:08 am

Another great article.

Points one is particularly poignant to me. Because I have a tendancy to fight for too many life changes at once, which inevitably, leads to failure. Singular focus on what is MOST important seems to bring about the best results in my life.

12 Hound January 16, 2012 at 3:16 am

Great, I was looking forward to this. Excellent end to an excellent series. May the force (read willpower) be with us.

I just have a tiny problem with:

“they do exercise more, but this has much less effect on one’s weight than diet does”

Short term studies show diet to be more effective, but many long term studies show people don’t stick to diets. You need both if you have a weight problem.

13 George P.H. January 16, 2012 at 3:40 am

A great post that came right on time – people are probably planning or trying to meet New Year’s resolutions!

I like points 4, 18, 13 and 16 especially. I think that what really makes choices difficult is considering the “other” option long after you’ve made your decision. When you minimize the attention the “road not travelled” gets in your mind, there’s a lot less temptation. It might not be manly, but it’s a great way to save willpower for more important stuff.

I should know because I’m a libra and sometimes have a hard time choosing between two equally good options. Sometimes it’s best to do like the speed-daters and make a snap decision than torture yourself for ages!

14 George P.H. January 16, 2012 at 3:45 am

Also, @Hound

In weightlifting, it’s widely believed that what you eat has a much bigger effect on weight loss than your training program. An oft-repeated saying is “train for hypertrophy, eat for fat loss.”

So in this case, I agree with Brett. Even if you exercise a lot, diet is still really important when you want to look good.

15 Dan Smith January 16, 2012 at 8:03 am

I appreciate this article very much. I read the first two and was definitely excited to see this one. Thank you for the tips. I think that, with so many, it should make temptation much easier to deal with. At least I hope!

16 Clayton January 16, 2012 at 8:24 am

Gold. A coherent collection of excellent tactics that I’ve read from all over. ‘ll be sharing this with a lot of people.

Thanks, good work!

17 David Mendoza January 16, 2012 at 9:54 am

Slightly off topic for Brett & Kate: when you posted the first part of this series, I purchased and read the referenced book “Willpower”. I read the book in one sitting and was then able to compare your articles to the book as you posted them. I have to say that your summaries are masterful. I don’t know if that skillful distilling was developed during law school, but you certainly catch all of the main points. Also, if you compare some of your blog posts from the beginning of AoM to your current work, you can see how much clearer and more lucid your writing has become. Just thought you should know.

18 Manny Thompson January 16, 2012 at 9:56 am

Good series of articles on willpower,this is the best website all around.Keep up the good work!

19 Brandon January 16, 2012 at 9:58 am

I’ve read about some of the techniques here throughout productivity articles and books, but i’ve never seen them unified in an idea like you have done with willpower. These same articles and books keep telling you to do more, but none of them acknowledge that this state of increased productivity is a finite resource that needs to be managed and recharged. This has been a real eye-opener for me and i’m sure I will be coming back to reread these again. Great job!

20 Nicholas Crawford January 16, 2012 at 10:48 am

Great series.

You hint at it, but one thing for me is to set a time to meet with a friend, colleague, whomever and use that time to accomplish the goal that I never can do on my own. I’m volunteering with an organization, and if I take an assignment home to work on my own, I can never do it. But if I meet with one of the other volunteers, we knock it out in an hour.

21 James January 16, 2012 at 11:16 am

Great wrap up for this series.

I have found that best way to improve my willpower is to succeed in my efforts which utilize willpower.

To give a personal example, the most important life decision I have made was to finally get in shape. After years of ignoring my health, I decided to finally take a stand. I went to a doctor, got all the tests I could have done, went over the results, and started doing research. I was extremely lucky (could argue blessed) that I did not have any terrible conditions as a result of my years of excess food, and limited activity; however I was on that path. I knew pretty quickly it would require a lot of willpower to change my life. Without going into extreme detail and getting off the point of this article, I set what now appear to be small goals, however at the time I was making them, they were a big deal. They required 100% attention to detail at first, because my new lifestyle was so different. At first, I found myself really struggling to do the things I set out to do. As the days and weeks went by, I found myself needing to “talk myself into” things much less. These things were becoming second nature. My willpower had succeeded in creating a habit, in this case, a healthy lifestyle. I then started new goals, and had the same results. Each time I began doing something new, or going one step further, the confidence of my prior “victories” allowed me to set larger goals, which of course lead to greater results. To comment further on one more point brought up, I found distraction really is a great tool. If I distracted myself from something I told myself not to do, I almost always ended up totally forgetting that thing in time, because I was so preoccupied with what I used to distract myself. That has worked for me on multiple fronts, not just diet/exercise.

22 Marc January 16, 2012 at 12:01 pm

I work as firefighter and I have found the ability to focus ones will power can accomplish great things when called upon.Firefighters will challenge each other at the Fire Station for things in fitness on my shift. I am 25 years older then most my guys yet due to will power I have out walked them while wearing as heavy pack up a mountain and back down. Its 4.75 miles & 1600 feet elevation in 2 hours or less. This challenge due to its intense nature is now called Ultimate Warriors challenge. We have had people try this saying they were fit but they did not have the will power to complete it. Again it get’s down to metal strength.

23 Jason January 16, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Regarding to do lists: I scoffed at them for years, but have found that I have been much more effective at getting things done when I have them. I read David Allen’s book “Getting things done” that was mentioned in the above post, and it was good. I didn’t like his online implementation due to lack of an Android app. I also didnt like Google Tasks as its just not implemented well (I’m normally a big Google user and think that most of their products are great.

I ended up using http://www.toodledo.com/ (Stupid name, great implementation, free) and the Android App “Ultimate To Do List” ($5). Been using this combination for about three months and its has helped greatly.

One of the best things is that I can split up my to do’s by type: errands, calls, etc which allows for greater efficiency when I’m tuned into a specific skill set.

24 Brent January 16, 2012 at 2:19 pm

First off, great article. I enjoyed it.

In addition to surrounding yourself with people with similar goals , I think it’s important to have strong social support in your life. #10-, Having an accountability alludes to this idea and I believe it’s worth elaborating on. Unfortunately I don’t have the source, but I read that you are more likely to succumb to vices when feeling lonely or isolated. I believe it’s really important to stay connected with other people to conserve or maybe even strengthen your willpower. In my personal experiences I have found this to be true. This past weekend I toured Israel with a group of other friendly travelers I really connected with and tonight I’m cleaning the house, preparing for tomorrow, doing homework and reading/journaling AOM. I’ve had weekends in the past where I’ve stayed home being a recluse which led at some point to having depleted willpower.

Last thing I want to add is that social status is correlated to stress levels, and stress is closely linked with ego depletion and willpower. If willpower truly is the linchpin quality of the outcome of your life as suggested in Part I of this series, we should foster our current relationships with friends and family and cultivate new ones by reaching out to strangers, today.

25 Russell January 16, 2012 at 5:47 pm

Awesome read!

I have been using Mint.com for almost a year now and that has really helped me keep my spending under control. Even if I go over buget rather than being mindless spending it was an informed descion that allows me to compensate.

I highly recommend it.

26 Trevor January 16, 2012 at 6:30 pm

I’m curious as to how one would know they have mastered their objective before moving on to the next. I understand in situations like, focusing on not biting your nails, you would clearly know when you’ve stopped and you no longer desire to do so. I’m worried about my first objective which is to stop spending money on anything non-essential. How will I know that I have kicked that habit and am ready to move on to the next objective? How can I be sure that I just haven’t hit a lull in desiring certain things? Any input would be greatly appreciated!

27 Derick Vegas January 16, 2012 at 9:15 pm

So if someone ever says, “Why are you making your bed? It’s pointless.” You can now answer: “Because I’m building my willpower, foo!” Loved that line —– Thanks

28 Jon January 17, 2012 at 11:32 am

Great series! I’m already putting it to work.

29 Nik Rice January 17, 2012 at 4:12 pm

This post is probably the most important issue that I’ve read on this wonderful site. It is not my “favorite” but our favorite things are rarely what we need.

What I think is worth mentioning regarding this post is to sit down and think about what you do well by yourself as opposed to when there are others around.

I am far more successful at accomplishing “to do” tasks when my family is not around. BUT I am much better at not wasting my time (feeling more accountable) and pondering life’s big questions when my wife is around.

My first priority is my family which is why I am more easily distracted and less driven to focus on projects when my family is around. I feel like I am not giving my wife priority if I’m not at least partially paying attention to her. So I save my “to do” projects for when she is not around and I can give 100% to the task at hand.

Most people have better focus when they realize what distracts and reinforces them.
So face the fact that you have things that you just have to do alone and that other things that need addressing with people around need to be given their proper attention.

30 Wayne Key January 17, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Long ago and far away my first martial arts teacher told me that Will Power or Discipline is created additionally, one small bit at a time, BUT that it falls apart geometrically, big pieces and suddenly.

Based on that, he looked across the table at me and smiled… and said: “Bite off what you can chew, then chew it well.”

I will never forget that meal. It has served me well for years.

31 Wayne January 17, 2012 at 6:07 pm

Yes! Fantatic article. I think this will not only help with will poelwer but can straighten up an entire life, especially with the first step.

Thanks alot!

32 Jeff January 17, 2012 at 7:26 pm

Great article! Like others I had read parts I and II and axiously awaited part III. Some I have practiced for years (6-to do lists, 16-cleanliness); and others I have known about for years but don’t do well (11-tackle hard tasks first). But I’m excited to work on the others. Thanks again!

33 Jmook January 17, 2012 at 9:29 pm

Great Article, recently I had been discussing many of these steps with a friend of mind, it’s been nice to move thru the steps and have someone to reflect and stride forward with. Not to mention the most manly thing one can have is a purpose, way to save the best for all. When everything else seems less important, you will no longer be tempted or encounter such strong urges and drains on your willpower. I love this website, keep it coming gentlemen

34 Matt January 18, 2012 at 8:29 am

Interesting about glucose; I had never thought about it being associated with willpower, degree of risk aversion, and decision making. Fresh dates are a great source of it for quick (almost immediate) absorption.

35 Matt January 18, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Love number 9. To lose weight, I started keeping a food diary, then logging calories at the end of each day. It’s amazing what you forget until it’s written down. By the end of the day, you don’t realize that those 2 Hershey kisses you grabbed out of candy jar in accounting, that single chocolate chip cookie that was left over after a meeting, that can of soda you grabbed before the meeting, accounted for 400 calories.

36 Charles January 18, 2012 at 4:51 pm

I really appreciate this three-part series on willpower, and I needed to know how to utilize this oh-so-valuable resource myself. I’m nearly out of high school and off to college now, and I feel that there are areas of my life that could use some adjustment, and willpower is just the tool I need for the job. I’ve been using to-do lists myself for about a month, and I can see how tremendously helpful they have been already.

Again, great article, and I’m glad that you decided to run a website like this. It really helps.

37 Hilton January 20, 2012 at 2:45 am

I ran out of willpower to read the whole article. :)

No offense intended, it seems interesting.

I’ll be back.

38 Zachariah January 20, 2012 at 5:13 am

“Because I’m building my willpower, foo!”

Nice ^^

39 Robert January 24, 2012 at 11:40 pm

Great article. I like it. Read the first two, will have to read this one in another chunk, it’s bed time and all, you know.
Digestion is as important as sugar. Being ADD, or certainly familiar with an element of it, causes its own conundrum on the sugary snack thing for a quick pick up. If that works for you and most, cool, but some of us? Whew! We better know so we don’t take that particular advice. Speaking in generalities, it’s probably solid. We will figure out our on tweaks when we have to. Sugar, blood sugar rise, insulin spike, sugar drop, nothing to back it up, low sugar is real stress, as you need it to live, if your adrenals work well, they kick in, cortisol up, tissue breakdown up, well, you can guess this might not be good for will power. You might reach for a fix from that thing that just broke you if you’re not careful: Sugar. Another conundrum. Keep it up, hope this isn’t an inane comment that misses the point. It’s still useful info and entertaining.

40 Mickey January 28, 2012 at 11:43 am

This is a great article.
I ran with the wrong crowd for a long time until deciding to take my fathers advice and will myself into a better life. And that’s what I did. My friends, however, didn’t have the genius dad I did. I’ve been slowly watching them, from a distance, waste their lives away. This article puts it into perfect perspective. In my opinion the references were flawless. I’ve already sent them all a copy and will be using it to help them master their will power as well. My dad would always say that will power is the only super power we’ll ever get.

41 Bill Carnes January 30, 2012 at 3:13 pm

I think this is a great article but would like to add that will power can also be significantly increased through yoga. There are a number of resources online to research this. I found the simple plank pose excellent for exercising your mental and physical willpower it also increases your core strength which enhances many aspects of your life. In my experience I have been amazed how the very real improvements core strength has affected my guitar playing and significantly strengthened my singing voice. Give it a try!

42 seo January 31, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Excellent goods from you, man. I’ve understand your stuff previous to and you are just extremely wonderful. I actually like what you have acquired here, certainly like what you are saying and the way in which you say it. You make it enjoyable and you still care for to keep it smart. I can not wait to read much more from you. This is actually a great site.

43 Caleb December 1, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Thanks for the awesome article! Putting it the way you did made it so clear and concise… Thanks again,

44 Jorge January 13, 2013 at 6:06 am

Just amazing, thanks, back to studying again!!

45 Mimi January 21, 2013 at 8:33 pm

Thanks for posting. Fun to read and useful, too, even though I don’t aim to be manly-er.

46 Denver January 28, 2013 at 2:12 am

Fantastic Article. Thanks for posting. Have bookmarked it for further reading/contemplation :)

47 Alexander January 30, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Religion does not aim very high.

There are good scientific reasons to engage in meditation, fasting, service, ect. that don’t require you believe anything on insufficient evidence.

The greater self control is most likely from a life time of avoiding the temptation of atheism.

48 Bucolic Buffalo November 5, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Great article! I find that stating my long term goals effective if you spend a lot of time (months) thinking about what you really want in your life. I think in terms of what my roles are in life, and how to further my goals in each of those roles. Another useful technique I use is to visualize what I want in my children’s lives, in global terms. While I maintain a daily to do list that works in concert with my longer term goals, I build in “flex” time to allow for the inevitable urgent situations. While something may be on my daily to do list, I do variance analyses once per week. That way, when I can’t get to something done on a particular day, if I can get it done that week, I view the week as positive and don’t let the annoyances affect me too negatively.

49 Nabeel November 8, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Thanks Brett, your sharing always has a positive impact. Powerful and necessary information.

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