Willpower, or better said self-control, is the ability to control yourself, your actions, your emotions.
It's a great thing. It helps you to not eat that marshmallow yet, to know what's you should and shouldn't do. On the other hand, it's also a bad thing, it's finite. The more decisions you are taking every day, the faster it gets used up.
We are taking around 35,000 decisions every day, most of them unconscious, but some of them require our attention. This article is about using our given willpower for the right decisions and automating the rest.
Simple, everything around you is designed to fight for your attention. Be it email, social media, a TV, a fast food restaurant, whatever. Companies are spending big budgets to make their services appealing, in the end it's how they are making more money.
Now, you totally can use your willpower to fight the every battle of attention on your own. But imagine it as a battery, each time you say NO to a distraction, one bar disappears. Until you arrived at your desk in the morning to work you have already used up three bars because you resisted picking up your phone and scrolling some minutes on Instagram, you didn't pick up some snack, and you didn't open up email first.
Depending on your daily condition and you as a person that may already be a massive percentage of your willpower battery for the day.
When it now comes to important decisions, about how to continue a project, what to write about, in which direction a book should go, your battery is already dead. Maybe you don't want to take that decisions anymore and push them ahead in your calendar or default into the easy but wrong direction.
There is a better way.
Tools and Routines
Most of the tedious decisions that cost a lot of energy can be taken automatically without any willpower, by either rules, routines, or thanks to tools.
To avoid reasoning with me if I should visit social media, I have deleted all social media apps on my phone and on my laptop I use freedom to lock me out of social media in the morning. Since I know that I am safe, I don't need to talk myself out of it before I am sitting down to write.
Looking back on our example, we already have two bars on the battery saved. The third bar we can save through rules: We could either block it with some tool as well, or use a routine. Since I know that I will be checking my mails at around eight when I am back at the laptop, I don't have any urge to check it immediately.
Routines are another great way to save willpower and make things effortless. Do anything small for about three weeks, and it adds up. Like just some minutes of reading in the afternoon can become multiple books a year. The same goes for writing, exercising and anything life-changing.
Make it easy to start. Define a routine for your mornings and evenings.
Separate Planning from Action
In the past, I would just cook or order whatever comes to my mind. This often resulted in two things: Unhealthy food and quick supermarket runs, which then resulted in even worse decisions. Never go shopping hungry.
My girlfriend convinced me of making a food plan and I love it. Every Sunday we are sitting together and planning the food for the next days. This results in healthier but also better meals, as we are experimenting a lot with different recipes. Doing that spontaneous would be hard and would result in going to the grocery store every other day.
The main principle that helps here is separating our reasonable healthy selves from the brainless hungry zombies that only would eat pizza and pasta every evening. We are taking good decisions upfront, so that we don't have to come up with good decisions after a long day at work.
That not only works with food. It helps me to work out five times a week, as well as taking time to learn new things, but also to relax. By separating planning and action I take the guess-work out of the moment about what's next and if I should do something or not.
Together with good routines this can turn your whole life into another direction.
With planning every week ahead I am not only eliminating the guess-work, I am also setting boundaries and make sure that I have time for the things that matter to me.
You don't need a weekly plan, but make sure to plan with the right mind involved. You know your hungry zombie brain better than me 😉.
BONUS: Clean your Desk
I do not only like a clean desk because I am a minimalist. It's also great for staying on task and making better decisions. I don't have to worry that "stuff" on my desks lures me into distraction.
Every time I am done with something, I will put it away. Multiple times a week I am wiping my desk and that's also a great time to make sure the surface is clean and everything is in its place.
This doesn't only apply to your physical desk, it also applies to your PC. If I opened up my laptop in the morning with LinkedIn and Instagram open, it would be really hard to start writing and not scroll there for "just a little". Every time before I leave my laptop I close every application and window, so that it cannot distract me when I get back there.
This has two advantages. First, I am presented with a black blank screen and just have to open up my writing app. Second, since I have to close everything I am documenting the loose ends, and I am less likely to forget something.
In short, no matter if digitally or physically, clean up your workspace before you leave it, so you can get a better start next time you are using it.
Monitoring and "managing" your willpower may not seem intuitive first. Give it a shot and see how automating decisions and separating action from planning can improve your everyday life and make you calmer and less twitchy.
In the end it also helps you to enjoy the moment more, as you know things are taken care of.