“I’m tired of trying to lose weight.” a friend tells you.
“Maybe you didn’t try the right way” you exclaim and assume that your friend is wrong to give up. Or maybe if you were a more understanding type, you’d assume that your friend probably has a genetic or medical condition.
Both ways, you were wrong.
Now, I’m not talking merely about health issues here.
When a person comes to you claiming that he tried a lot (to change something) and is now exhausted, believe him. Believe him, because he is not lying. Believe him, because it is scientifically proven that people can get tired of trying.
Palm readers wouldn’t side with me here, but we all have the same amount of willpower contained in us. What differentiates us from one another is how we make use of it and how we conserve it. And trust me when I say, this very property of willpower makes it the most fickle friend one could ever have.
Why do I say that? I looked around and found some random facts to be linked to each other in a very intriguing manner. This is what I see:
- Zuckerberg, Jobs, Obama, and many other successful people have been wearing the same clothes everyday.
- I either order pasta, or anything on the menu that catches my eye the first time.
- Prisoners, who were judged in the morning, have been granted parole more than 6 times than those who have been judged in the evening.
- Scientific studies claim that people who worked mentally challenging jobs are found to be as physically exhausted as those had physically demanding jobs.
How are they all linked together?
1. People found what worked best in their industry and stuck to it. Thus, avoiding the situation where they had to exhaust their mental energy in making a trivial decision.
Now, you’ve heard that already many times right?
2. I order pasta, because I like it. If I don’t find it in the menu, I either ask others to order for me or go for the first dish that catches my eye. This, I believe, saves me the mental energy which I later use to enjoy the food to the fullest when it arrives.
I love pasta, but I’m open to experimentation.
3. The job of a judge is tough. He has to weigh the pros (of letting a prisoner go free and enjoy with his family while saving taxpayers’ money) and the cons, rather consequences (of letting the criminal go free and hurt more people). It is mentally exhausting. The first case, the morning case, is easy, but as the day progresses, the criminal psychology outweighs reformation psychology. The judge wouldn’t agree, but decision making gets the better of him by the evening.
And, as I believe, you’re now losing your patience too. Like what am I trying to convey here? So here is it-
Willpower is an exhaustible resource. The more decisions you make, the more it drains you.
Most consider willpower to be a mental resource, like a muscle you could train. Well, you can train it, but it is not a mental resource. It is physical.
The source of will power or any other energy in our body is none other than glucose. Yes, GLUCOSE. Like the body consumes glucose to function, brain exhausts it too to think and make decisions. This brings me to-
4. People who worked mentally challenging jobs (like the ones that require strategic decision making) are found to be as physically exhausted as those that had physically demanding jobs.
In short, a strategist or a key decision maker of a major business firm and a rickshaw-puller go back to bed equally tired.
The same stands true for relationships too.
When a person tries to do something, he makes a decision and an attempt, both of which require mental and physical energy. When he fails, he mulls over the incidents and spends more energy. He goes over to make amends – again more energy expended. The other people involved decide to forgive – they spent some of their willpower. And we are good again.
Now, what if this record plays over and over again? Both sides are getting exhausted with each replay. The defaulter continues to try to better himself, depleting his will power at each step and the forgiver continues to let go of the mistakes. So who gives in first?
Rather, I want to know that whose giving up is acceptable?
After days of thought on this, I shook myself out of the thought bubble, and realized that the answer is whoever thinks more gives in first.
Why? Because whoever thinks more, depletes more of his willpower in the mental process and speculation when relationships are more about doing than intending. What goes in your mind, nobody knows. People only see what you do.
Like people saw efficiency and success of Steve Jobs, my affinity towards pasta or ignorance towards other dishes, judges’ number of morning and evening paroles and a working man’s tiredness. Nobody was able to peek into their brains and see what’s really happening there.
So, here is a quick solution to all your difficult decisions:
#1 Standardize your choices on trivial matters.
Example: Lunch with elders – Saree, Lunch with same age relatives – Salwar Kameez, Lunch with friends – Dress, Lunch with coworkers – Jeans and top. (This is mine, requires a lesser amount of energy than looking at the whole wardrobe at once.)
#2 When #1 doesn’t work, choose the first option.
Be a satisficer. Thinking is strictly prohibited.
#3 Make an ‘if-then sheet’ for situations that tend to or may put you under duress.
Do it when you are free and thinking rationally. For example, if someone’s remark doesn’t go well down with me, then I’d note it down somewhere and come back to it later. (This saves me from a lot of unnecessary disagreements and hasty decisions.)
#4 Plan for your weaknesses.
Getting up early is a pain in the ass for most of us. We set multiple alarms and still get up late. Some developers came up with a brilliant idea – they designed an alarm app which keeps on screaming until you solve a mini-puzzle. And a puzzle is enough to kick your lazy brain’s ass.
Types of Willpower – Do they exist?
Some might think that willpower for different things is different, like willpower for bodybuilding, willpower for studying, willpower for persistently working. Well, then how do you explain that a man who is in a financial crisis feels more exhausted when he has to keep things stable at the home front too? How do you explain nervous breakdowns?
Willpower, or as some prefer to call it patience or persistence, is general. People may have different affinities towards avoiding chocolate and sitting straight, but they don’t have separate willpowers for both of them. Craving for a cigarette or controlling temper – consuming willpower at one place will make you lose at another. That’s why, it is important to set priorities and rules.
Research has shown that social stress beats the hell out of all the other stresses, and socially rejected individuals exhibit a far more irrational, erratic behavior with a tendency to easily give up on challenging tasks and temptations.
Anyway, the point is how to restore willpower?
- Take adequate rest (every morning we fight with our will power to snooze the alarm)
- Have proper meals and never skip breakfast (glucose is the source of will power)
- Take a chill pill, I mean a break (mini-breaks of amusing videos, a walk outside, a small game distract us, in turn, leaving us rejuvenated)
Now, how to train willpower?
- Take baby steps – start with small acts of self control and then progress into different areas.
- Actually exercise, like physically – now that in itself exhausts will power, but in the long term, it will prove to be a power-punch of willpower.
- Positive affirmations – if no one is acknowledging your efforts, make your own diary and pat your own back. Don’t talk about how others reacted, just jot down what you did (write execution, not intention).
I read all that again and find a tremendous study done today with juiced out executable tips. I’m going to follow my advice too. But when you do, all that while do not forget that one of the primary ways of conserving willpower is to bypass the decision making step.
Save your best for the last.