Conditioning my willpower

I just finished the book Willpower after a friend of mine gave it to me to read. I took a ton away from it but will summarize main takeaway points below:

  • My bad habits (mainly eating candy when I shouldn’t) are often a result of me using up my willpower elsewhere. I need to have better balance with my usage of willpower.
  • Simplifying your life allows you to make less decisions and helps you conserve willpower. By getting off of social media and changing my relationship with my phone, I can tell that I’ve been able to save energy and, as a result, willpower.
  • “Faking it doesn’t come free”: I often force myself through social situation in which I don’t want to be there. This causes my willpower to be sapped and I often make silly decisions the next day. Being more aware and upfront about avoiding these situations will help in the long term. Faking it only costs me something but doesn’t cost those around me anything.
  • Don’t take on too much as it just uses up your willpower and results in you not being able to do anything you set out to do!
  • When my willpower is depleted, everything truly is more intense as the book explains. Rather than beating myself up for this, I need to just be aware of it and act upon it.
  • Setting “bright lines” (crystal clear guidelines) helps more than setting vague goal. I need to set more serious and strict guidelines.
  • You need to set up rewards and punishments for yourself. Personally, I also realized I need to track certain aspects of my life a bit more.

More than anything, I realized that I have a large amount of willpower but that the things I do slip up on (mostly eating too much candy) is directly related to me using up my willpower to make sure I work out, do my work, read, reply to emails, eat healthy the rest of the time, etc. This left me to reflect ways in which I could limit my use of willpower. A big one for me is simply limiting choices and making decisions about social events so that I don’t use up a ton of willpower in one fell swoop just to “go out and watch the basketball game”. This is completely on me and some days it doesn’t wear on me as much as others. Ultimately though, I’m an introvert and energy is a rare resource.

I then thought about how I could both set clear guidelines, reward behavior, and reach my goals. The result is that I’ve come up with a system that, if I stick to it, will allow me to be rewarded for shaping good behaviors but will also be flexible enough for me to stay motivated:

Coffee rule: For each day I don’t drink coffee, split the cost of the coffee ($4) between a “fun” jar and a “donation” jar. For each day I don’t buy coffee but I brew it at home, split the cost (around $2) between a “fun” jar and a “donation” jar. Each Sunday, calculate how much to put in each jar. Get physical jars for this. Example: If I don’t drink coffee all week, then $14 goes to the fun jar and $14 goes to the donation jar.

Why this rule: I want to save up money for the World Cup as well as generally just traveling. I also want to give back more. This will allow me to put aside money to do so for both things.

Sweets rule: Every four days, I can have something sweet. As discussed in the book, people who swear off sweets tend to relapse harder and faster whereas if you use the “not now.. later” principle it helps trick your brain into satiation in the moment and allows you to remain more balanced. If I have something sweet sooner than 4 days, I give up my option to dine out that week.

Why this rule: I go through periods where I won’t have sweets for weeks and then periods where I’ll have something sweet every day or every other day. This is an effort to get a bit more balanced as well as save money and get in better shape.

Dining out: Each week, only dine out once per week. This includes just going and snagging lunch elsewhere. If I only do this once/week, split $10 between fun and donation jar. Exception: If I make more than 4 NEW recipes in one week, I can go out for a meal twice that week.

Why this rule: This will help me save money, learn new recipes, and contribute to my fun & donation jar 🙂

Behind the scenes, I’m also going to work on further limiting my use of technology to set times. I often find myself heading to my phone or computer when there are much more interesting things to be doing. Thanks to this book, I’ve realized how powerful that can be. Take email for example… Instead of being notified for each email coming into my work or personal email on my phone, I have removed any email functionality. The only way for me to check email is if I log into gmail via Safari on my phone. The result is that if 20 emails come in over 2 hours, I only have one decision to make (check email) rather than 20 decisions as each email comes in (view email or ignore email until later). Little things like this make a huge differences especially in our world of notifications.

I’m not sure how this self experimentation will go but I want to give it a shot. I typically respond well to clear goals and have always been a bit of a rule follower so we’ll see. More than anything, I think it could be a bit fun to help condition myself and put my psychology background to good use.


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