Want to maximise the rate of your willpower and get more done than you thought possible then the list below is for you. In our previous book review blog post we looked at the book;
Now in this post, we look at the top 9 tips from the book that we have rounded up in no particular order. You can start applying these right away so make notes however best works for you and optimise your willpower to an entirely new level with these proven techniques;
1. Two Qualities That Predict Success
However you define success – a happy family, good friends, a satisfying career, robust health, financial security, the freedom to pursue your passions – it tends to be accompanied by a couple of qualities. When psychologists isolate the personal qualities that predict ‘positive outcomes’ in life, they consistently find two traits: intelligence and self-control. So far researchers still haven’t learned how to permanently increase intelligence. But they have discovered, or at least rediscovered, how to improve self-control.”
IQ and willpower are the two prime predictors of success in life. The former remains fixed over our lifetime. The latter, however, is very much subject to change. What does this mean? If you want greater success in life, the lever to work on is self-control. Improve your willpower, improve your chances of success in life. Simple as that.
2. Improving Willpower Is the Surest Way to a Better Life
“Improving willpower is the surest way to a better life.”
“They’ve come to realize that most major problems, personal and social, centre on a failure of self-control: compulsive spending and borrowing, impulsive violence, underachievement in school, procrastination at work, alcohol and drug abuse, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, chronic anxiety, explosive anger. Poor self-control correlates with just about every kind of individual trauma: losing friends, being fired, getting divorced, winding up in prison.”
You may not realize it, but most of your problems result directly from a lack of willpower. Health issues? Overweight? Addictions? Poor diet? Lack of exercise? Bad relationships? Finances going awry? So many seemingly different problems, but only one major cause. Can you imagine how your life changes when you fix that cause?
That’s the power of self-control. Baumeister goes on to mention how people with greater willpower are healthier, happier, and more satisfied in their relationships. They are further ahead in their careers and make more money. They’re better able to deal with conflict, manage stress, and overcome adversity. They even live longer than their less disciplined peers.
More impressive yet, willpower is a stronger determinant of effective leadership than charisma, more important for marital satisfaction than empathy, and a better predictor of academic achievement than intelligence. In fact, it’s 2x better at predicting academic success than IQ. Think about that for a moment.
Bottom line: If you want to improve your life, self-control is where to start.
3. Desire Is the Norm
“Desire turned out to be the norm, not the exception. About half the time, people were feeling some desire at the moment their beepers went off, and another quarter said a desire had just been felt in the past few minutes. Many of these desires were ones they were trying to resist. The researchers concluded that people spend at least a fifth of their waking hours resisting desires – between three and four hours per day.”
We tend to think of willpower as some magical force to be summoned in emergency situations only. That’s not true.
In one study, Baumeister and his colleagues monitored a group of more than two hundred people. The participants wore beepers that went off at random intervals seven times a day, prompting them to report whether they were currently experiencing some sort of desire or had just recently felt such a desire. In total, more than ten thousand momentary reports were recorded.
The results are described in the quote above. We may not be aware of it, but we’re fighting urges all throughout the day. Some of the more common ones are the urges to eat, sleep, nap, take a break, watch TV, play video games, have sex, check email, or hop on social media.
This makes it really obvious why willpower is so important. If you don’t have the self-discipline to resist these urges, you’ll find yourself in trouble very quickly.
4. Practice Makes Perfect
“Exercising self-control in one area seemed to improve all areas of life. They smoked fewer cigarettes and drank less alcohol. They kept their homes cleaner. They washed dishes instead of leaving them stacked in the sink, and did their laundry more often. They procrastinated less. They did their work and chores instead of watching television or hanging out with friends first. They ate less junk food, replacing their bad eating habits with healthier ones.”
Willpower is a skill like any other. If you want to get better at it, you need to practice. What does that mean? It means you need to exert self-control in daily life.
One of the first studies demonstrating this idea asked volunteers to follow a two-week regimen to track their food intake, improve their posture, or track their moods. Compared to a control group, the participants who had exerted willpower by performing these small exercises were less vulnerable to self-control depletion in follow-up lab tests.
Over and over again, research shows that engaging in activities that require self-control helps build your overall self-control strength.
Baumeister mentions a few strategies for giving your willpower a regular workout in your day-to-day life:
Adjust your posture. Every time you realize you’re slouching, sit up straight. This doesn’t come natural, so it requires and builds willpower.
Use the opposite hand. Try opening all doors with your opposite hand. Since our brains are wired to use the dominant hand for everything, this requires and builds willpower.
Stop using swear words. Since it takes an effort to go against your inclination of using swear words, this requires and builds willpower.
Track your spending. Again, this isn’t something we normally do, so it requires and builds willpower.
5. The Incredible Importance of Energy on Self-Control
“No glucose, no willpower.”
Using willpower requires energy. Every time you’re forced to exert self-control – by resisting a cookie, suppressing an emotion, or resisting the urge to procrastinate –, you use a little bit of energy. Run out of energy and you run out of willpower.
The major energetic component for willpower seems to be blood glucose (blood sugar). When people perform a self-control task, their blood sugar levels tend to drop. And the more a person’s blood sugar drops, the worse they perform on the next task. If you give willpower-drained individuals a glass of lemonade, the resulting boost in blood sugar temporarily restores willpower.
According to Baumeister, blood sugar issues (which translate into low and unstable energy levels) predict a wide range of willpower failures. Whether it’s diabetics or hypoglycemics, both of them struggle with self-control. Here he uses hypoglycemia as an example:
“The link between glucose and self-control appeared in studies of people with hypoglycemia, the tendency to have low blood sugar. Researchers noted that hypoglycemics were more likely than the average person to have trouble concentrating and controlling their negative emotions when provoked. Overall, they tended to be more anxious and less happy than average. Hypoglycemia was also reported to be unusually prevalent among criminals and other violent persons, and some creative defence attorneys brought the low-blood-sugar research into court.”
He mentions a study showing below-average glucose levels in 90 per cent (!) of juvenile delinquents taken into custody.
The point is, willpower requires energy. It doesn’t matter where your lack of energy comes from – diabetes, hypoglycemia, crappy diet, lack of sleep. If you don’t have energy, you can’t control yourself.
If you ask me, that’s phenomenal news! It means that any improvement in energy levels directly translates into improvements in willpower. More energy = more willpower. That’s one of the reasons why I’m so obsessed with eating healthy, optimizing sleep, exercising regularly, and incorporating any of the bio-hacks by people such as Dave Asprey or Ben Greenfield recommend into my days.
6. Beware of Decision Fatigue
“The link between willpower and decision making works both ways: Decision making depletes your willpower, and once your willpower is depleted, you’re less able to make decisions.”
If you haven’t noticed yet, making decisions is hard work. You have to consider the pros and cons, take responsibility, think about moralities, and so on. It’s an energy-intensive process.
Unfortunately, making decisions uses up the same energy that we need for self-control. The more decisions you make, the less willpower you’re left with.
The good news is you can reduce the number of decisions you make on a daily basis, thereby saving some of your precious willpower. Some ways of doing that include planning your day the night before, creating pre-commitments, eating the same meals over and over again, or minimizing your wardrobe (guess why Mark Zuckerberg wears the same grey t-shirt day in day out).
7. Tidy Up!
“Another simple old-fashioned way to boost your willpower is to expend a little of it on neatness. As we described in chapter 7, people exert less self-control after seeing a messy desk than after seeing a clean desk, or when using a sloppy rather than a neat and well-organized Web site. You may not care about whether your bed is made and your desk is clean, but these environmental cues subtly influence your brain and your behaviour, making it ultimately less of a strain to maintain self-discipline. The order seems to be contagious.”
Studies show that your environment has a massive influence on your self-control. Orderly, clean, and well-designed websites? More willpower. Sloppy websites with spelling errors and other problems? Less willpower. Tidy and neat lab rooms? More willpower. Messy lab rooms? Less willpower.
You can either create a willpower-supporting or a willpower-depleting environment around you. If you wish to do the latter, start by cleaning up and keeping things tidy. Oh, and for reasons mentioned in this article, get rid of unnecessary clutter while you’re at it.
8. Play Offense, Not Defense!
“People with good self-control mainly use it not for rescue in emergencies but rather to develop effective habits and routines in school and at work. The results of these habits and routines were demonstrated in yet another recent set of studies, in the United States, showing that people with high self-control consistently report less stress in their lives. They use their self-control not to get through crises but to avoid them. They give themselves enough time to finish a project; they take the car to the shop before it breaks down; they stay away from all-you-can-eat buffets. They play offence instead of defence.”
The most successful people play offence, not defence with their willpower. They use self-control to build and establish patterns of healthy behaviour – habits, systems, and pre-commitments that set them up for success.
They eat healthily, exercise regularly, keep to a consistent sleep schedule, and abstain from bad habits like smoking, late-night snacking, or heavy drinking. Installing these patterns takes willpower initially. But once things become habitual, their lives can proceed smoothly and they find themselves doing the right things more or less automatically.
As an additional bonus, their habits (due to their automatic nature) help them conserve willpower, so that if emergency strikes, they have enough reserves to overcome them.
9. Use Pre-Commitment Strategies!
“The essence of this strategy is to lock yourself into a virtuous path. You recognize that you’ll face terrible temptations to stray from the path and that your willpower will weaken. So you make it impossible—or somehow unthinkably disgraceful or sinful—to leave the path. Precommitment is what Odysseus and his men used to get past the deadly songs of the Sirens. He had himself lashed to the mast with orders not to be untied no matter how much he pleaded to be freed to go to the Sirens. His men used a different form of precommitment by plugging their ears so they couldn’t hear the Sirens’ songs. They prevented themselves from being tempted at all, which is generally the safer of the two approaches. If you want to be sure you don’t gamble at a casino, you’re better off staying out of it rather than strolling past the tables and counting on your friends to stop you from placing a bet. Better yet is to put your name on the list of people (maintained by casinos in some states) who are not allowed to collect any money if they place winning bets.”
Pre-committing yourself means locking yourself into a virtuous path. You decide in advance what you will or won’t do in a specific situation. And if possible, you make it so that not doing the right thing literally becomes impossible. Pre-committing basically means that you use willpower now so you don’t have to use it in a future situation. That’s playing offence instead of defence.
So as they go into in the book that there is a return of willpower and people are applying the many more techniques they provide in this book. As they describe in the book the history of the decline willpower with a certain belief about willpower introduced by the phycologist Sigmund Freud, willpower was labelled the ‘superego’ and when academics of the day were discussing the decline of the superego in western society they were essentially talking about the weakening of willpower.
All this happened before the baby boomers, the “Me generation” came of age in the 1960’s with the countercultural mantra of if it feels good, “do it”, which is quite materialistic because just following your physical impulses can result in major consequences for you and others. This laid some of the ground for the current generation of millennials known as the “Me, Me, Me Generation”.
“Popular culture kept celebrating self-indulgence for the “me generation” of the 1970’s, and there were new arguments against willpower from social scientists, whose numbers and influence soared during the late twentieth century. Most social scientists look for causes of misbehaviour outside the individual: poverty, relative deprivation, oppression, or other failures of the environment or the economic and political systems. searching for external factors is often a lot more comfortable for everyone, particularly for the many academics who worry that they risk the politically incorrect sin of “blaming the victim” by suggesting that peoples problems might arise from causes inside themselves. Social problems seem easier than character defects to fix, at least to the social scientists proposing new policies and programs to deal with them.” Some have even proposed to change the legal system with a revamp to eliminate outdated notions of freedom and responsibility.
So we can increase our willpower with measures of self-control which stabilise our momentum, elevate our efforts and optimise our potential and lead and teach others to do so.
So when they say that “improving willpower is the surest way to a better life” they are not wrong and provide a serious range of applicable techniques for you to do just that, How encouraging to know that you can completely change your life around with a little bit of self- control!