Our willpower is the main tool we need to give up an addiction, a bad habit, installing a new, good one
or simply convince our legs to go to the gym.
The overall secret to keep our levels of willpower high is *drumroll* to avoid entering and staying in a state of ego depletion.
And I can definitely see you being like:
Ego depletion = “a state we enter when our levels of willpower drop below a certain threshold”
In other words, when we’re in a state of ego depletion our brain works slower and we become more impulsive, emotional. And that’s why we have such a hard time sticking to our habits!
So what causes our levels of willpower to drop??
There are actually many reasons why, and today we’re gonna be talking about the three most common ways this happens.
1. MENTAL PROCESSES
If I’d ask you to do something simple like brushing your teeth, I guess you wouldn’t have much problems with that, because it’s something you do every day.
It comes naturally and it doesn’t require much willpower.
But if I’d ask you to do something more difficult like multiplying 34 for 45 without a calculator, this would consume you some time and a lot of willpower.
This happens because you actually need to sit down and figure out how to do it.
When you have to think hard about how to do something, that drains your willpower.
That’s why if you’re working an office job that doesn’t require any physical work it’s possible to become completely exhausted – it’s the same with school, or college – because you’ve been using your brain on mental processes all day long.
We all know that feeling!
People often ask me how I keep myself so energized during the day.
Well, what I do it to simply try to automate things as much as possible.
In other words, I try to put on autopilot all of those little things that would drain – a little at the time – my levels of willpower.
For example, I prepare the grocery list – or the clothes I’m gonna wear, or my gym bag – the day before. I also write some drafts or do some research on what I’m gonna be writing about the next day.
All these little actions make my day much easier!
And most importantly I don’t use my brain as a memory card, which means I write everything that comes to my mind down – digitally speaking – so that I have more energies and willpower to work on creative projects.
To recap, try to automate as many things as possible and decide carefully where you need to put your brain efforts into.
2. RESISTING URGES
This one comes out easy. When you are told – or you tell yourself – to resist an urge, it’s easier for you to fail. When we actively fight our urges, this consumes willpower.
I’m pretty sure you found yourself here at least once:
You’re craving some junk food, or cigarettes, so you tell yourself “No, I’m quitting” but the urge remains and after about 30 minutes or an hour of actively fighting this urge you give in to your temptations.
This happens because you’re depleting your willpower while resisting these urges and – if you remember – if your levels drop too low you enter a state of ego depletion and your impulses become stronger, so you eventually give in.
What can we do about this?
There are two things you can do to resist your urges.
- CHANGE YOUR ENVIRONMENT
There’s a high possibility that the place you’re in – or a certain situation – is the cue for your brain to stick to a bad habit.
In other words, your brain associates a specific place – or time of the day – to something you do.
What you can do at this point is to change your environment, so that the cue simply goes away and your brain forgets about it more easily.
But if you don’t change your environment, the cue will cause your brain to keep telling you:
“Hey, this is usually when we [insert addiction here]”
And it won’t stop until you give up.
- BECOME MINDFUL OF THE URGE
This might sound a little bit silly at first, but give it a try and you will see how powerful it really is.
All you have to do – the next time you feel an urge – is to sit down and focus all of your attention on this urge.
“How does it feel?”
“Where in your body you feel it?”
Then start thinking to yourself something like:
“Oh, I am feeling an urge to smoke a cigarette right now..”
“Oh, I am thinking about feeling an urge to smoke… “
And so on.
Now you’re probably wondering
“Why should this work?”
Well, think of it this way.
When you get hit by a mosquito it itches a little bit. If you decide to scratch it or if you actively think of yourself “Oh my god I hate mosquitoes, my bite itches so much” guess what happens? The itch gets worse.
But if instead you choose to ignore it and you don’t scratch it, the itch just disappears.
The same thing applies to your urges: if you just become mindful that you have urged and don’t associate it with anything negative – simply observe that it’s there – it will naturally disappear.
And I personally think this is the sense of meditation in general – and the reason why you should do it every day.
3. DECISION FATIGUE
Making a choice, deciding which option to go with, or deciding whether do or not something, consumes you some willpower.
I think the most effective way to overcome this is by making lists. Of all kinds.
It really clears up your mind and you know exactly what to do – one step at a time – so you don’t spend much willpower deciding it at the moment.
This is again one of the reasons why I like preparing my clothes – or gym bag, or drafts, or grocery list – the day before.
What good habits are your trying to stick to? Or what bad habits are your trying to get rid of? Let me know in the comments below!