They all deplete your willpower.
According to the authors of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, everyone has a finite amount of willpower, and you use it up on all sorts of tasks you don’t necessarily associate with requiring willpower. In this fascinating review of science, psychology, and common sense you’ll find out what depletes willpower, what restores it, and what that means for your attempt to set and achieve your goals.
The whole book was interesting, but a couple of points I found most intriguing were the discussions of the importance of habits and the contradiction between the suggestions for kicking addictions versus keeping to a diet.
Habit formation is something I’ve read a lot about in literature about Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education, and it’s always instructive to see how the concept of good habits is validated in research. In the context of willpower, habits help you to make a good choice without depleting your limited reserves. So, to use a simplistic example, if you make it a habit to eat at a salad place every day for lunch, you spare yourself the daily willpower depletion of debating whether to eat salad or a burger and fries. The habit/willpower connection extends to more subtle areas of behavior and lifestyle as well.
The authors also (perhaps unwittingly) touched on a fascinating contrast I first saw articulated on Gretchen Rubin’s blog – the question of whether you are an abstainer or a moderator. The willpower book suggests that the best way to quit a habit like smoking or the like is to make yourself a bright line policy. That is, to say “I will not ever have another cigarette.” The bright line policy helps to reduce the amount of time you have to spend dithering over whether this is a good time or a bad time for a smoke, or if you have smoked too much that day, or if you should cut down more, etc. On the other hand, the authors take more of a moderator approach to diet and suggest that it’s more effective to tell yourself you can have small amounts of everything than to say you’ll never eat sugar again. For a moderator, that would work well. For an abstainer, it’s a recipe for disaster (Jen Fox, I put that in just for you!) because you’ll spend so much time and energy and willpower debating about when it’s all right to eat the cookie. For me, since I’m an abstainer, it’s much, much easier to say “I don’t eat cookies.” Because once I fall off the wagon, I’m off in a big way.
Whatever you think about the moderator versus abstainer distinction (and I’d love to know what you think of it!) and whether or not you are interested in diet or just all around interested in goal setting and getting things done, I’d really recommend Willpower.
In the book, the authors talk about how being depleted in one area, such as having decision fatigue or not getting enough sleep, can make it harder to have willpower in other areas such as being pleasant to your family or eating healthy foods. They argue that the state of depletion makes all of your emotions heightened and cravings stronger. Do you find this is true?
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