Why Willpower Is Not the Answer You Are Looking For.
Willpower is a finite commodity and is in high demand, but what if I told you there is a much cheaper and better alternative that you can apply in your life.
In 2011, 27% of the respondents of the Stress in America survey reported a lack of willpower as the greatest obstacle to change.
We rely on willpower to exercise, diet, save money, quit smoking, stop drinking, overcome procrastination, and ultimately accomplish any of our goals. It impacts every area of our lives.
Spiritual leader and activist Mahatma Gandhi described willpower by noting that:
“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”
Simply put, willpower is our ability to delay gratification. It is our self-control that helps us resist distracting impulses and persevere.
The idea, that people have self-control because they’re good at willpower, is looking more and more like a myth. It turns out that self-control, and all the benefits from it, may not be related to inhibiting impulses at all. And once we cast aside the idea of willpower, we can better understand what actually works to accomplish goals and hit those New Year’s resolutions.
When it comes to the science of willpower, there are two big names you should be familiar with. They have done extensive research on the science of willpower and have answered if willpower can be increased or not.
Discussing the scientific aspect of willpower is impossible without mentioning Walter Mischel. Walter Mischel is most famous for his Stanford Marshmallow Test. This test is simply genius. Children were asked to choose between getting a sweet reward right away or having a double-portion after waiting for around 15 minutes. Kids who managed to delay gratification were believed to have stronger willpower (an obvious conclusion). The study, however, did not stop there. The young participants of the Marshmallow Test were actually subject to long-term evaluation. Over the course of years, it turned out that those who were able to delay gratification as kids had better life outcomes as adults. Life success was measured in terms of education, performance at work, health, and other metrics.
The other person is none other than the famous scientist Roy Baumeister, who in collaboration with other scientists discovered that our will, just like a muscle, can be fatigued if we spend too much time on activities that require self-control. According to their theory, the strength and capacity of our willpower depend on the level of energy available in our body and brain at a given moment. To support his point of view, Baumeister ran an experiment that involved hard-to-resist foods. Participants had to withstand the temptation of eating chocolate and complete a series of mental tasks afterward. Those who managed to resist food temptation appeared to be more fatigued and performed worse in mental tasks.
Removing Willpower from the Equation
When it comes to the issue of willpower you will always be fallible, your mind will always want to go for the easier route. Picking burgers instead of the salad and putting off an important assignment in exchange for mindless scrolling on Twitter.
Instead of using your willpower again and again for making the right choices. Choose to set up rules, strict rules that help you do what you need to do, and you must do instead of something that you want to do at the moment.
The way I have applied is that in the pandemic my morning routine was out of the window and I spent nearly an hour on social media after waking up, unknowingly this made me miserable, so instead if relying on willpower, I set my phone on Zen mode which didn’t allow me to use it for the first 2 hours of my day. This helped me focus on the things that matter first thing in the morning. Now I do some reading, writing, and spend time with my family.
Set up good rules, and pretty soon they’ll begin assuring success.
Best-selling author David Kadavy discusses this very problem in his book, The Heart to Start. “When you build a habit, you don’t have to spend mental energy deciding what to do,” he writes. When you design an environment to produce success, you remove all the energy-wasting dilemmas of “Should I go to the gym or stay home?” You just go to the gym because that’s what you do.
What you need is a system in place that helps you to perform at your best and brings out your A level. These systems must be practiced on a daily basis, without sheer consistency these systems will cease to work, and you will be back in the self-loathing loop.
As Anders Ericsson, author of “Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise” notes, “Elite performers in many diverse domains have been found to practice, on average, roughly the same amount every day, including weekends.”
In order to reach big goals, you need time, during which you must continue moving in your chosen direction.
People always look for the easy way out. Many people practically lookout for secrets, tricks, and hacks that will make everything better right now. But unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way.
Whatever skill you want to master comes at a price. It takes time, perhaps thousands of hours. It takes full concentration. It might mean waking up early and studying late when you could have been out drinking with friends.
Cultivating and Embracing Self-Discipline
Self-discipline sucks but being a loser sucks even more. We need self-discipline in our lives because it helps us to make the right choices when we are surrounded by all the distractions and things that don’t help us in reaching our goals.
Jocko Willink simply says that you must do things and not complain. I like that, but for us normal people, it’s not that simple.
What we can do is develop certain habits that will lead to better self-control and self-discipline in our lives.
Discipline means putting yourself in control rather than letting “fate” control your actions.
It means making Present You do what it must so that Future You reaps the rewards.
Some habits that I have developed to increase my self-discipline are:
1. Working Out: Exercising is a great habit to cultivate strong self-discipline. When you’re in the gym and you’re pushing yourself to do another rep or increase the weight a bit more, you train yourself to push beyond resistance — and that’s literally what discipline is. Some days my body and mind are just tired on those days I make it a point to go to the gym, I have heard people say that you might need rest but unless I’m hurting I don’t need it and every time when I come back from the gym in such a situation I’m always feeling much better. Also, exercise is proven to contribute to a stronger pre-frontal cortex, which cultivates even stronger self-discipline in your life.
2. Working Distraction-Free: In today’s tech-heavy world, our productivity and self-discipline suffer heavily from the constant interruptions from our smartphone, email, social media, and messaging apps. In fact, most people haven’t worked in a distraction-free environment which can seem a bit daunting at first, people might ask you how do you live without your phone for hours on end, but keep your mind focussed on working and creating.
3. Meditating every day: Through mediation, you learn how to focus on one thing and silence inner distractions. You learn how to override the inner voice that often talks us out of doing certain things, even though we should do them. Mediation has helped me calm myself and gain control of my overactive personality. Much like exercising, it has been proven by science that meditation ‘strengthens’ the pre-frontal cortex, which is the area in the brain responsible for many of our executive functions such as decision-making, focus, and… self-discipline. In other words, on a neurological level, your brain will find it easier to be disciplined.
You can only improve your self-discipline by taking action and not merely by knowing about how to do it. Consistency is boring. Putting in the work, day in and day out for a long time will make you feel like a loser. The work isn’t sexy, and you won’t see results for a while. Most people will quit here, don’t be like most people they don’t have big goals, and even if they have they don’t work towards them. If you can push through the dip and keep going even if there is no visible light at the end of the tunnel, you will surely reach extraordinary success.
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