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.

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