Lessons from the book Willpower

Willpower written by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney has been on my reading list for a long time. I finally got around to reading it and I highly recommend it to all those who want to increase their self-control. The book mixes studies and anecdotes to make a case that self-control is crucial and can be improved.

The authors explain how willpower is like a muscle. It can be strengthened or atrophy over time. We can improve willpower by deliberately working it out, or we may decrease our self-control when we get complacent. The analogy goes further: when we use our muscles, their energy gets depleted over time, once we reach our limits we have to rest to be able to effectively use our muscular power to its full potential. If we don’t use our muscles, our body gets weaker and we lose strength. This is also true for our resolve, if we never get out of our comfort zone our self-control will weaken.

Willpower can be used for all activities, but if we over-commit and overuse it in all areas of our lives, we’ll break down and give in to temptation or apathy. It’s more effective to improve a single aspect of our lives rather than work on multiple things at once. If we try to eat better, exercise more, get rid of all unhealthy habits, and get more work done at the same time; we’ll deplete our energy and fail. In my early 30s, I had the lofty ambitions about my lifestyle. I tried to tackle every challenge at once, burned out, and failed all of them. Now, I only worry about a single habit at a time, setting aside my other objectives. I make consistent progress and I rarely regress even when I’m down for an extended period.

Try to improve, but don’t burn yourself out. Life is a marathon, not a sprint.

Long-term goals are crucial for improvement. Over the past four years I worked on reading more. Last year my goal was to read at least 400 pages per month; a bit more than the year prior. Without this objective I would have probably slipped back into playing video games every night and neglect my reading. The long-term goal forces me to do a minimum of reading every day, even when I don’t feel like it. Reading has become easier and more enjoyable over time. Now, if I don’t read in the evening I actually miss it.

Monitoring progress is essential to get better and work out willpower. I use Goodreads to track my books. I meet every couple of weeks with my pal Cyrille to track my progress and discuss my goals and aspirations. He keeps me accountable, I don’t want to disappoint him. Increasing self-control is easier when you aren’t alone.

I had good notions about many of the things discussed in Willpower, however the book clarified the concepts and formalized the methods I used in my quest to be more resolute. This will help me become more disciplined as I grow older.