A couple of weeks ago I found out something really enlightening about will power: it is a finite resource that gets depleted over the course of a day. Of course, dieters have always understood what science has now proven, but the mechanics are still interesting. I was even happier to discover will can also be built up and replenished.
Like a muscle, your will power has the most to give after a good night’s rest. You wake up filled with resolve and energy. Almost immediately, the depletion begins. Like draining the gas tank one drop at a time, it drops when you first say no to a second spoonful of sugar in your morning coffee, again when you resist running the yellow light on the way to work, again when you resist sending that snarky email to the co-worker who is infuriating you.
You see where this is going: by the time you get home at the end of the day, your tank of will is empty. No way you’re going to manage stopping at a single glass of wine or be able to do your taxes instead of watching TV.
Unfortunately, will is also needed to achieve goals. Say you want to take a sabbatical and move to Paris for three months. Somehow you keep putting off the planning of it, and you wonder why you aren’t more motivated to make that fantastic thing happen. You’ve been dreaming of it for years, for heaven’s sake. Here’s the trick: if you feel any fear about it, or find the planning process tedious, bringing it to fruition means using the same will you’ve been dipping into all day. So regardless of how great you think it would be to be there, the process of getting there becomes an impossible chore.
The good news is – like a muscle – you can give yourself little exercises to increase your will power. Things that become habitual, such as always eating carrot sticks at 3:00 instead of snarfing a cookie, actually make it stronger. You can also replenish will by doing things that bring you joy. And sleeping (it’s pretty joyful in its own way).
An obvious tactic to help yourself out: if you’re trying to plan an adventure, do any work involved in getting it off the ground first thing in the morning. Maybe even over breakfast. Make it a habit. Not only do you get the best of your will, but the routine will give you more of it.
Personally, I feel more energized just knowing about this. Any of you have experience with building up will?
I love this Shelagh. Battling tiredness, trying to stay mindful to various important projects simultaneously, not wanting to disappoint, least of all myself is making me depleted at the end of the day right now. You’re timing is perfect. Thank you!!!! Take care, and keep writing!!! xox
I know the feeling well! That’s why I was so thrilled to discover it’s possible to do something to improve it. Hope the idea yields something positive for you. One of the best writers on this subject is Heidi Halvorsen http://www.heidigranthalvorson.com/
She comes at it from a clinical psychology perspective whereas I just like to talk to people who are out there adventuring, to gain from their experience. But it’s interesting to see that science can dissect what risk-takers do by instinct.
A question, maybe a silly one: what do you mean for “will” ?
I introduce this matter because I have the feeling that different persons have different opinions.
Time ago I participated to a discussion just about “will”, and I realized that the meaning of this word were quite various.
More: what is the “will” that we develop as we grow? what is the “will” we retain from our education?
How do these two different attitudes sometimes blend and sometimes contend ?
Please Shelagh and blog readers, answer to me.
In this context I’m referring to ‘will power’ or ‘self control’, which are essentially your control over your own behaviour (regardless of how you acquired the ability). It’s a less slippery idea than what I think you’re talking, which has more to do with intent, volition and desire.