The Most Ignored Limited Resource on Earth

Forget fuels, water, air, and time for a moment–I mean, they’re important, but we’ll set them aside for this. There is one resource we’re all wasting every day, and it’s costing us more than we can possibly imagine.

That resource is willpower.

No, seriously, it is.

Because the fact is willpower, self-discipline, those are limited resources. We wake up each morning with a certain amount, and we run out through the day.

Ever notice how it’s easier to eat healthy, or do assignments, or be at all productive when you’re alert and awake? That’s you having your highest levels of willpower.

This would be handy to have irl.

This would be handy to have irl.

Ever notice how, when you’re tired, you snack endlessly, or watch too much TV, or putter around aimlessly online? That’s you running out of willpower. We can’t bring ourselves to finish reports or exercise or do much of anything when we’re low on willpower.

The real problem here is that we’re not really taught about this personal resource, or how to use it the way we want, instead of as a kind of involuntary spasm at random times throughout the day.

So I’d like to share what I’ve learned, so you can get more of what you want, less of what you don’t want, and enjoy your life a lot more.

Here are a few things that can drain willpower:

– lack of sleep
– poor nutrition
– worry/stress
– lack of training
– making too many decisions

(I know that last one sounds weird. I’ll get to that.)

Here’s what replenishes willpower (bet you can guess a few):

– getting enough (good) sleep
– eating better
– relaxation and fun
– deliberate willpower exercises
– making decisions strategically

(Remember when I said I’d address the weird last item? That’s happening now.)

The first few items on each if those lists are pretty self-explanatory. I’ll discuss them in another post, but right now, let’s talk about how decisions impact your decision-making abilities.

Decisions area a direct drain on the willpower reserves in our bodies. Willpower is like the gasoline that fuels choices.

That means every decision you make takes a toll on your willpower. And weirdly, it doesn’t matter how big or small the decision is–choices are like a switch: It’s either on or off. A decision is either made, or it’s not. There aren’t really shades of grey or varying degrees of intensity here. No scale of one to ten–just “YES” or “NO”.

So everything you decide to do eats up your precious, limited willpower.

Here are a few choices that unnecessarily use willpower through the day:

– What to wear
– What to eat
– When to do certain tasks
– Whether or not to go out tonight/tomorrow/this weekend
– When to go to sleep/wake up
– What to do in your free time
– What to watch on Netflix
– Which route to take to go somewhere

Believe it or not, these stupidly simple tasks take a huge chunk of your willpower for the day, leaving you weak to defend against threats or to seize opportunities.

This makes it hard to do big-picture stuff. That book you want to write, the album you want to record, any skill you want to learn, or trophy you want to win become vague wishes, rather than laser-focused goals, when you’re low or flat out of willpower.

How do I combat this in my own life? How do I save up enough willpower through the day to still be making sound decisions at night?

Planning ahead.

Much like the president, I make sure I make as few decisions in the moment as I have to. What will I wear today? I laid that out last night. What will I eat? I made a meal plan for the week. Will I go out with my friends? Not until Thursday–I’m booked until then.

Unlike the president, I don’t have anyone to do this for me, so I have to be smart about it. I might have to make all these choices myself, but I don’t have to do it randomly as things come up through the day. I can make these decisions for myself ahead of time, when I’m in a good frame of mind. With the decision made, all I have to do later is follow the path I’ve laid out for myself.

Now, does this mean my life is effortless? No, and definitely not at first. Getting to this point took a lot of work. There were times when I didn’t even have enough willpower to follow the pre-set plan I’d made before. I mean, how hard is that? But as I said: It takes effort. It takes practice. It takes time to replace old habits with new ones, but it’s worth it.

Start making plans for yourself. The fun thing about this is it’s entirely up to you. What are you going to wear? You decide. What are you going to eat? Whatever you want. When do you go to bed and wake up? That’s your call.

You still get to make the decision, you just make it in a way that leaves you with more willpower throughout the day.

If you start doing this, you’ll begin to find that you have more decision-juice for the big stuff. You’ll have the willpower to put at least a little energy toward your big, life-changing, dream-making goals.

Another thing you can do is exercise your willpower muscle. You do this by being conscious of the decisions you’re making (which I talk about in this post), and deliberately choosing what’s “right” for you (whatever “right for you” means–no one else can tell you what that is, but if you learn to listen to your instincts, you’ll find it every time).

Just little things, like doing some exercises (a few push ups each morning is a solid start), or practicing something you wouldn’t normally do (like writing with your non-dominant hand). Also, try slowing yourself down on certain tasks. Eating, washing dishes, feeding the dog…slow down and really get into the process, experience each step, be conscious of it, and you’ll be exercising your willpower little by little, day by day.

The more often and more consistently you make conscious, positive choices for yourself, the more willpower you develop. So not only will you be saving willpower, you’ll actually have more of it to use.

The other tactic? Rest. You know that schedule I suggested? Give yourself some downtime. Remember: Willpower runs out. You need to replenish it, and the best way is with rest. I’ve noticed that for me, personally, I have the most willpower on Monday morning. It dwindles through the day, but also through the week. I’m all but done by Friday–in fact, if I’ve been highly productive that week, I’ll often give myself Friday off, since some weeks, it seems pretty clear that I’m not gonna get a damn thing done, anyway.

And that’s the power of knowing yourself, knowing your limits, and knowing strategies to help you get where you want to go.

Imagine what you can do, create, or accomplish with more willpower and better practice using it?

Anything you want.

Millennials, Digital Natives, & The Unstoppable Human Spirit: Part II

Last post, I talked about what the “entrepreneurial spirit” means to me, and how it’s not just about owning a business. It’s so much more than that, and honestly, it’s so much cooler than just that.

See, I love entrepreneurs. I love the mindset, and the outlook. I think it’s a fantastic way to be, and I think the increase in entrepreneurial individuals in our world is the sign of a global shift, a change in awareness and a change in our direction as a species. A good one!

If you’ve resonated at all with what I’ve written here, it’s very possible you have an entrepreneurial spirit, even if yours is, as of yet, underdeveloped.

Here are some characteristics of entrepreneurs:

  • Easily bored by routine
  • Rebellious
  • Eager to learn (but completely unwilling to do tasks that don’t light them up)
  • Stubborn
  • Curious
  • Prone to depression, frustration, and emotional distress when feeling trapped and powerless
  • Wants to do things their own way (even if sometimes it’s harder)
  • Has a strong desire to contribute something meaningful to the world
  • Possesses a great sense of purpose (even if that purpose is completely unclear to them)
  • Incredibly creative in areas where they have interest
  • Often diagnosed with things like ADD or ADHD

(This is not to say that just because you’re moody and rebellious that you’re an entrepreneur. I dislike when people use high intellect or unique personalities to excuse rudeness or actual laziness—there are some genuinely lazy people who don’t contribute to the world, and that’s not where you want to be.)

Though I might or might not be guilty of this…

Though I might or might not be guilty of this…

It took me until I was in my twenties to realize that I was an entrepreneur, even though, when I looked back, it was painfully obvious that I’d always done things my own way.

Entrepreneurs want different things from life than most others. “Freedom” has a different definition for them, and they’ll brave all manner of unusual and uncomfortable circumstances to get what they want.

They’ll work incredibly hard on what they believe in.

They’ll go without things others wouldn’t dream of going without if it’s in service of their dreams.

They’ll make sacrifices that seem impossible to others, because they know what they want.

An entrepreneur who isn’t in touch with their passions and desires suffers. They can be morose, lost, and unfocused. This often looks like flakiness, lack of motivation, lack of goals, and general patheticness.

This was me for a few years. After college, I just kind of hung around for a while. Don’t get me wrong, I worked hard. I just felt like I was stuck in the mud, spinning my tires at full throttle, but going nowhere. I was working non-stop, but I found I had nothing to show for it, and I was quickly sinking into depression and a general disdain toward life.

I felt like this dog.

I felt like this dog.

 

I knew who and what I wanted to be, but getting there felt impossible. Even starting felt impossible. I’m a big picture person, so while I can see things from a detached perspective and keep my goal in sight, I also have a bad habit of becoming overwhelmed by everything I need to do. This can be paralyzing, and for a few years, I was. I let fear and doubt keep me frozen in place, not knowing how to even begin.

The good thing about that time was that, while I didn’t feel like I was moving forward, I was still trying things. I wrote books, I freelanced, I read and read and read, devouring everything I could about making money, or publishing, or spirituality and finding inner peace, or even things like inventing and law. I read and watched and learned everything I could find that struck a chord with that hollow place inside of me that was eating me alive.

And I hate to disappoint you, but I don’t have one of those stories where I had a big “AHA!” moment that fixed my whole life in one fell swoop. I certainly did have a lot of “aha!” and “Oooh, I GET IT!” moments over the years, and I continue to have them now, but those kinds of things don’t change your life alone. It’s everything together that alters the trajectory of your future.

I used to seek out those defining moments, those singular days that would stand as a turning point for my entire existence.

But the truth, for me, at least, is that life is just a collection of ordinary, run-of-the-mill Mondays and Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Thursdays, spiced up by a few Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

We have to take out the trash and clean the kitchen. We have to do laundry and finish assignments. We have to run errands and write emails, and it’s all awfully boring.

And we have to work really, really hard. A lot. Sometimes for a very, very long time with virtually no return on our overwhelming investment whatsoever.

We have to do all this, all this Normal Life and Dream Life stuff, all mixed together, while being told over and over by people on all sides, whether they live in our house or in our screens, that we can’t ever do it.

They tell us we can’t have what we want. We can’t be that person. We can’t do those things. We can’t change this life. We’re stuck. They’re stuck. Everyone’s stuck. They tell us to give up and live a Normal Life full time, and let the Dream Life be just that—a dream. They tell us that’s normal and healthy and right.

And the only real difference between the entrepreneurial spirit and the ordinary soul is this: The little voice, sometimes so quiet we can barely hear it, that whispers, “But I want this.”

It’s hard work, but it’s worth it. And for people with a dream, with a purpose, there’s really no other option.

There will be big moments, but they’re rarely game changers all on their own. Much more powerful and important are the millions upon millions of little moments. Little, ordinary moments, where you choose to be big and extraordinary. Start adding those up, and you’ll start to see some remarkable results.

Everyone has this potential in them, but not everyone listens to the little voice. Not everyone holds fast to those dreams. Most people let life steer them, rather than steering their lives.

And the truth is that it’s not actually harder or easier to do it one way or another. Life is hard, period. It’s just a matter of what kind of “difficult” you’re willing to put up with: Working hard to get what you want, or regretting your decisions and wishing you had more.

So if you know what you want, don’t ever let it go. I’m going to talk a lot more about this in the future, so stick around. There’s a lot to cover on this topic.

If you don’t know what you want, still stick around. One of the purposes of my life is to ensure that others find their passion, so I’m going to be talking a lot about that, too.

But more than anything, keep being you. You can improve you, and be the best you, but make sure that no matter what, you’re always you. As they say: Everyone else is taken.

 

So, would you classify yourself as an entrepreneurial spirit? You can be broke, businessless, and completely at a loss for what you want to do in life—that doesn’t mean you aren’t an entrepreneur!

Channeling Energy Where You Want It To Go

There are a lot of times when you’re going to have to channel energy into something else. We often find ourselves angry, depressed, antsy, or even happy with no real way to express it. Or maybe there are some ways we can think of expressing it, but they could get us in trouble…or in jail.

So. What to do.

When the energy needs to be expressed physically, it’s a little easier. You can exercise—go for a walk or a run, play a little basketball, whatever. I run around my house sporadically, much like a cat.

BAM! Ow...

A Day in the Life of Eve: Exhibit A

However, this isn’t necessarily the most productive way to spend that energy. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with it, but sometimes, there’s an actually useful or important thing you want to get done. Even if it’s just important to you, like learning a musical instrument or learning to code or writing a book. (Basically things I “wasted time” on as a teen and am now using to earn a living. So yeah, enjoy those “frivolous” pursuits, kids!)

There are a few good ways to handle this:

Meditate

Daily meditation is actually one of the best things you can do for yourself. You’ve probably already heard that, but it seriously is.

There’s no “right or wrong” with meditation, especially if you’re new to the practice. You can start with just five minutes a day. There are lots of guided meditations on YouTube, or available as free downloads online—here are a few. If you can’t do five minutes, do one. Just breathe, and don’t worry about “clearing your mind” (that’s actually VERY rare and usually only achieved by highly trained monks who’ve been practicing meditation for hours a day every day for years). Just let your thoughts kind of drift by, like leaves on a river, and try not to focus on any one too strongly. Really, it’s just about taking a few moments for yourself, to get away from everything, even just mentally.

Meditation gives you greater control over your mind, your emotions, and your energy, thus making channeling energy a natural, simple thing.

Get Some Space (Or Get Away)

Sometimes, you just need to be alone for a while. A little distance, a little solitude, can do a lot to focus the mind. If you can, lock yourself in your room, put on some music, get away from distracting sites (Twitter is my weakness, personally), and get to work. Do whatever you need to do to get yourself away from the needs and demands and updates of others, even if it’s just for fifteen minutes. This will help you channel that energy in one direction—the direction of your choosing—rather than scattering it all over the place.

For me, one of the best things I can do is go to a coffee shop. This works for me because the environment suits writing, which is my primary creative pursuit. It’s also pretty good for drawing or learning a new skill online. With music, I have fewer options, but I find ways. When everyone is out of the house (which is rare, living with four other people), or when they’re all watching a movie or something, and I can slip away into my room and carve out some quiet time with my guitar. Whatever your personal circumstances are, I know you can find a way to make it work.

Make A Plan

A plan makes you think consciously about whatever it is you want to do, and accomplish. When you make a plan, you sit down and make decisions in a very deliberate and focused manner.

The plan is not something that necessarily dictate exactly what’s going to happen next—things rarely go according to plan. The important thing is to have a plan, so that you have direction. Be prepared to grow with the plan, and to reorient it if the need arises, but also do what you can to stick to your plan.

The objective is to get motivated, to get direction, and to get moving.

A word of caution: Don’t do what I used to do and get stuck in “planning mode”. I’d plan and plan and plan and never execute, which is just as useful as doing nothing at all. Planning is good. Action is better. Plan first, but then attack!

If you have your own methods, that’s even better! Do what works for you, do what feels right, and play with other stuff until you find your perfect method for directing energy into projects you want to accomplish.

Directing the flow of energy is a vital and useful skill that you’ll value for your entire life, so I’d highly recommend making it a priority—that energy in you can be wasted, or it can be used to do something that will have meaning to you years from now, and the cool thing is that’s entirely up to you. :)

 

P.S.

If you have any ways to focus and direct energy that I haven’t mentioned, I would love to hear them! Let me know if the comments and I’ll add them to this post and credit you for the idea!