The Barack Obama Willpower Hack

Niklas Göke
Sep 11, 2015 · 4 min read

Are you on the list already?

The one with the nobel peace prize nominees I mean.

No?

Then you might wanna keep reading.

Because unless you’re

  • one of the 103 people in history, who have won the nobel peace prize (or any other nobel prize for that matter),
  • worth $12.2 million or
  • the most powerful man on the planet,

you obviously have some room for improvement.

So what’s Obama’s secret? Where does he come up with all the willpower?

Is it his Hawaiian heritage? His sleep schedule? The suit?

Yes. It’s the suit.

Wait, what?!

I’ll explain.

Here’s what a quick Google Image search of “Barack Obama” yields:

Nothing uncommon, right? But look closer.

Notice anything?

All of his suits are either blue — or grey.

Hold on, really? To make sure I double checked all the pics.

Yup. Blue or grey.

Every. Single. One.

Is this one of those eerie internet phenomenons, like those creepy Google Maps pics?

Nope, this is productivity by design.

I call it pared-down decisions.

And so does the president.

The power of pared-down decisions

Once he saw the magnitude of the consequences of his decisions at work, Barack Obama knew that he could make none of them lightheartedly.

Each of them deserved his absolutely focused decision-making energy.

That’s why he decided to save all of it for those decisions.

You see, the president has just as much willpower as you do.

But he knows that his daily cognitive budget is limited. After a certain amount of decisions, he will suffer from decision fatigue — the lack of being able to make good decisions or to decide at all — just like everyone else.

Therefore, one day he decided to only wear grey and blue suits.

This is a pared-down decision, because he only had to make it once.

Since that day, he hasn’t spend a single one of his decisions on what to wear.

Steve Jobs did the same thing. Remember his black turtleneck?

How much time did YOU spend this morning debating your dress code?

The red shirt, or the blue shirt? White socks or black socks? Do I need a sweater?

When you run the most powerful country in the world, you can’t occupy yourself with that kind of stuff.

Reaching into the closet and grabbing one of 50 identical suits requires no decision-making energy (I assume he even has someone decide the color for him).

Here are some other pared-down decisions the president has made:

  • what to eat (he has someone plan his meals)
  • when to exercise (every morning at 7:30 am)
  • how he can respond to memos (3 multiple choice options: agree, disagree, let’s discuss)
  • how much he socializes (for example he had a strict “no new friends” policy during his first campaign)

Now, while your decisions may not affect as many lives as the president’s you sure should take them just as seriously.

After all, the decisions you make today shape who you are tomorrow — and who you turn into determines how your life turns out.

So don’t waste your decision-making energy on irrelevant decisions.

From now on, think of your brain as a soda vending machine.

When you wake up in the morning the machine is fully loaded. Plenty of sodas left.

But as soon as you start making decisions the sodas start popping out.

Clunk!
  • Should I brush my teeth or take a shower first? Clunk.
  • What am I going to wear? Clunk.
  • Will I have cereal, oatmeal, a smoothie or just coffee for breakfast? Clunk, clunk, clunk.

You might have 100 sodas in your machine, but if you keep going like this you’ll run out before noon — and the machine will only be stacked up again tonight while you’re asleep.

So today, for each decision you seem to make over and over again, ask yourself: is this really worth pulling a soda?

If it’s a decision you can pare down, by all means, pare it down.

Pull a soda only when you’re thirsty, not just because you can.

Make a commitment up front. Consciously limit yourself.

Contrary to common belief, self-imposed limits can provide a wonderful feeling of freedom — the freedom to spend your energy on what truly matters.

The man in the blue suit agrees. And he probably went to work with a few more sodas left than you.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Niklas Göke

Written by

I write for dreamers, doers, and unbroken optimists. I’m also working on a book to help you live a balanced life: https://emptyyourcup.substack.com

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

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