Willpower By Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney

This book seeks to enable you to take charge of your life, teaches you how to be self-disciplined and how willpower can eventually bring you success. Willpower can also be grown and nurtured.

However, intelligence cannot be increased permanently. Self-control can. Willpower is like a muscle, which can be strengthened through repeated use. A lot of non-achievers suffer from a lack of willpower. People often succumb to desires. Modern people were not as strong willed as the Victorians in the past. Modern times tend to focus on do what makes you feel good. People initially thought confidence mattered a lot and that it determines your success. Research proved otherwise. One way to avoid temptations is to distract yourself. The marshmallow experiment has shown that resisting temptations can lead to success in life. Self-control can also predict grades accurately and is a vital strength to key to success in life. Learn to perform goal setting.

Amanda Palmer built character and willpower from being a human statue. The ability to stand still is all in your mind. Exercising willpower like this makes you tired after a while. Willpower can be depleted fast, as shown when the students who ate the radish while looking at the chocolate cake, gave up quickly during the puzzle stage. It is like a muscle, which can be fatigued after long use. If you use too much willpower in the office, your relationship might suffer as you don’t have enough energy to channel to your loved ones. If you try to suppress your emotions, that takes up willpower as well. Ego depletion describes ‘people’s diminished capacity to regulate their thoughts, feelings and actions.’ This also means that the conflict monitoring system in the brain is less able now. Recent experiments suggest that people will over-react when they are ego-depleted. Students experience ego depletion during periods of exams. Money can improve one’s willpower temporarily. Researchers have proven the following: 1) you have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it. 2) You use the same stock of willpower for all manner of tasks. Willpower has 4 types. Control of thoughts. Control of Emotions. Impulse control. Performance Control. Aim to just focus on one project at a time. Don’t overload yourself. Keep to one resolution at a time.

Food containing sugar can give you a temporary boost in brainpower. Energy from food gets converted into simple sugars like glucose. Your body consumes a lot of glucose when you are feeling unwell. People with low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, have problems concentrating and suppressing their emotions. There is also higher tendency for violence. Blood sugar is a key factor when determining the tendency in which criminals commit crimes. On the other hand, diabetics tend to be impulsive, distracted, have problems with alcohol, anxiety, depression etc. Breakfast is key to having a good start to a day. Moral of the story is: no glucose, no willpower. Ego depletion causes the brain to engage in other activities, rather than the one it is currently engaging in. In general though, women have better self-control than men. Solutions one can take include having a good breakfast, having enough rest. Don’t get into arguments before meals. For smokers, don’t try to quit when you are on a diet. In reality, it is better to go for the slow burners, such as proteins or complex carbohydrates. Food with a low glycemic index. ‘When you’re tired, sleep.’ If you shortchange yourself on sleep, it results in a decrease of self-control. Long term sleep deprivation may lead to a higher risk of diabetes.

To get the most out of your willpower, use it to set aside enough time to sleep. You’ll behave better the next day – and sleep more easily the next night. – Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney

It is important to regulate the goal as well, meaning you know what it takes to get you there. In reality when it comes to goal setting, people worry too much, they get less done, and both their mental and physical health suffers. Avoid conflicting goals at all costs. People who are drug addicts usually like to see the payoff now and set only very short term goals. It is crucial to always have a long term goal in mind. Proximal goals (short term) VS Distal goals (long term). Daily plans lack flexibility and are difficult to execute. In times of war, it is imperative that militaries plan well for them. However, the plan needs to allow for flexibility and improvisation. David Allen was someone who tried a wide variety of jobs in life. He believed in keeping the work desk neat. He used the tickler file 31 folders. One for each day of the month. It reminded you of what is needed to be done on that particular day. The to-do list needs to have very specific actions, such as ‘driving to the jewelry store.’ It has to be specific so that it will not ambiguous and you will procrastinate doing it. Eliminate your monkey mind by coming up with specific goals. The Zeigarnik effect. The Zeigarnik effect ceases to exist once people have a concrete plan. Our unconscious mind is asking our conscious mind to make a plan. Your mind will only stop worrying if you have a concrete plan to execute something in the future to achieve your goals. Do it, delegate it, defer it or drop it. Being very decisive helps a lot.

When you make an agreement with yourself and you don’t keep it, you undermine your own self-trust. You can fool everybody but yourself, and you’re going to pay for that, so you should be aware of the agreements you make. – David Allen

Uncompleted tasks and unmet goals tend to pop into one’s mind. Once the task is completed and the goal is reached, however, this stream of reminders comes to a stop. – The Zeigarnik effect

Eliot Spitzer had a tough time when he was the governor of New York. He engaged a prostitute, even though he was full aware of the consequences. He was an honest and upright man before he was made governor. He suffered from decision fatigue. Whenever you make a decision, it uses up a little of your willpower. Making decisions saps your willpower. Automatic is when the problem is simple and controlled is when the problem is more difficult. There are no such things as a free choice. However, if you like to do a particular thing, making decisions on that will not affect your willpower in the short term. It is much easier to choose something for others. Even for judges, they were biased in the morning and granted more parole cases in the morning as compared to afternoons. This is attributed to them having a good breakfast and not experiencing decision fatigue yet. Judging is hard mental work. When willpower is low, people tend to defer decision making, so as not to lose options. This problem also applies when finding a mate. It is easier to choose when you are not spoilt for choice. ‘Above a certain point, increases in price are not worth the extra gains in quality’. Once decision fatigue affects someone, he will tend to listen to the salesman’s recommendation.

Mint.com’s software helped people to track their personal finances and expenditures. Computers can help make us more self-aware, in this sense. Those who were more self-aware made better decisions and worked harder. Self-awareness is to compare what you see to what it should or might have been. It’s like comparing yourself to a set of standards. Just by looking at the mirror, people were more likely to follow their inner values. Looking at the mirror indeed makes one more self-aware. ‘A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.’ Anthony Trollope. Don’t make drastic changes, instead, take tiny steps to change things. People care about what others think of them. Hyperopia is a condition when one focuses too much on the future at the expense of the present.

For contentment, apparently, it pays to look at how far you’ve come. To stoke motivation and ambition, focus instead on the road ahead. –  Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney

‘The more the body suffers, the more the spirit flowers.’ David Blaine. He is self-described endurance artist. He is obsessed with performing feats that require huge willpower. He managed to hold his breath for almost 16 minutes under water. However, in an attempt to beat the world record, he suffered in front of a live audience. He believe that willpower can be trained and developed. Research has shown that practicing emotional control does not strengthen willpower. You need to override bad habits to improve willpower or by diligent self-monitoring. Your willpower doesn’t get depleted so quickly when you train your stamina. The key is trying to change a habitual behaviour. Exercise is a good way to improve both mental and physical stamina. Self-control is pervasive and will enter every aspect of your life. However, David Blaine also succumbed to temptations in his daily life and especially in between stunts.

As long as you were motivated to do some kind of exercise, your overall willpower could improve, at least over the course of the experiment. – Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney

Getting your brain wired into little goals and achieving them, that helps you achieve the bigger things you shouldn’t be able to do. It’s not just practicing the specific thing. It’s always making things more difficult than they should be, and never falling short, so that you have that extra reserve, that tank, so you know you can always go further than your goal. For me that’s what discipline is. It’s repetition and practice. – David Blaine

Henry Morton Stanley was a great explorer. He explored many parts of Africa. Stanley had an indomitable will. He lost his father at a very young age and his mother taught him about willpower African people were extremely hostile to foreigners, but he managed to overcome all this. ‘hot-cold empathy gap’ is when it is hard to predict what we will be like when the situation is intense and stressful. People usually only plan for pleasant, peaceful situations. When men are in a hot, impassioned state, they were more likely to want to agree to have a threesome, with another guy involved. Only save your willpower for emergencies. Precommitment is one technique. Tell yourself you can’t leave the path, that it is disgraceful or sinful etc. Example, use a firewall on the internet. There are websites which enable to state your goals and if you can’t achieve them, a certain form of punishment will be ‘meted’ out. Setting a penalty for yourself which force you to achieve your goals. If the precommitment is set long enough, it becomes a habit. Stanley shaved the first thing in the morning. He was a very orderly man. Orderly behavior can actually improve self-control. External order and self-control are co-related. Self-control is only required during the period when the habit is formed. Once you make something a habit, you will be able to conserve your willpower. ‘I was not sent into the world to be happy, I was sent for special work.’ Henry Morton Stanley

Often it appeared as though it were wholly useless to struggle against evil, yet there was an infinitesimal improvement in each stage. The character was becoming more and more developed. – Henry Morton Stanley

Eric Clapton was an alcoholic and a drug addict in the past. He liked to binge drink and had suicidal tendencies. It lowers blood glucose and self control. When part of you wants to do something and part of you does not, alcohol will make you do that something. He prayed every morning. He didn’t believe in a God. However, praying did work. The same thing worked for Mary Karr. Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) helps improve self-control. AA is a session for alcoholic. people to get together and share their problems The more meetings you attended, the less likely you will drink. AA seemed to be as good as seeking professional help to quit alcohol. Why?. Members get rewarded for not drinking and can choose a sponsor, who is someone who they are supposed to contact to track their progress. The warehouse effect. The last reason is that AA is socially uplifting. People drink and smoke because of peer pressure. People may be a higher power in your life. It need not be a religious figure, like God. The people who needed to seek help from others were about to quit more easily. Social support can work both ways though. A lack of friends tends to lead to alcohol abuse. Just by relating your past experiences will force you to be more self-aware. If you mention your goals to your friends, it is more likely you will stick to them. Social influence matters a lot. Religious people are less likely to develop bad habits and have better social support groups. They also have better self-control. Religion affects both building willpower and improves monitoring. Religion has the diminishing people’s temptations effect. It requires good discipline for one to follow a religion as it involves attending services, prayers and rules. People who visit churches for other motives will likely not experience better self-control. ‘Hyperbolic discounting’ is when the temptation is right in front of you and you find it very hard to resist. It takes just 1 lapse to establish a long-term pattern. It is important to set a bright line, meaning zero tolerance with no exceptions.

Contrary to popular stereotype, alcohol doesn’t increase your impulse to do stupid or destructive things; instead, it simply removes restraints. – Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney

Early psychologist believed having better self-esteem could change your life. A lot of people believed the key to success was self-esteem. A lot of parents encouraged their kids to think highly of themselves. Many of those who commit crimes have low self-esteem. From self-esteem to narcissism. Which came from? Good grades led to self-esteem? Or self-esteem led to good grades? Improving an academically weak student’s self-esteem did not make much difference to their grades. Serial rapists have very high self-esteem as well. Children, in general, have very high self-esteem. It might also be hard to get along with someone with high self-esteem. There are two benefits associated with high self-esteem. They are taking initiative and feeling good about yourself. High self-esteem can lead to narcissism, conceit and arrogance. When a problem arises, they tend not to act because they already feel their skills are adequate. Asians tend to have better self-control than the Americans. James Flynn argues that they do not have higher intelligence but are better able to make use of their intelligence. Asians believe more in delayed gratification. You get self-esteem from being praised and rewarded, not by boasting to others or flaunting your wealth/arrogance. Asian parents were more supportive of self-control, rather than self-esteem. You can’t keep letting your children win. They will climb all over you. The speed/consistency of the punishment matters more than the severity of it. You have to do what is right, even though disciplining the child in public might seem awkward. It is very important to lead by example. When the baby cries, sometimes let them be. Then go over and comfort them, then withdraw again. Repeat this until they can sleep in peace at night without disturbing you. Don’t let them think they can get their way just by crying. Set house rules like using colored rings, whereby one ring for a good deed entities the kid to 15 minutes of play. It is very important to understand the importance of saving. It is important to set rules and be consistent. Once the child is ready, let them set the rules. Both genetics and the environment played a part. Those children whose fathers’ voluntarily left the home were even less likely to succeed in life as compared to those whose fathers’ left due to other reasons, like work.

Success is conditional – but it’s within your reach as long as you have the discipline to try, try again. – Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney

Everybody wants flat abs. If you want to lose weight, do the following 1) Never go on a diet; 2) Never vow to give up chocolate or any other food; 3) Whether you’re judging yourself or judging others, never equate being overweight with having weak willpower. Dieting and self-control are not strongly correlated. Exercise alone isn’t enough to ensure weight loss. Dieting is much harder. Your body will fight against it. And once you had food readily available, you will become fat again. Instead of going on a diet, take gradual changes to ensure long term effects. Set realistic goals. People usually set unrealistic goals. ‘Diets work at first but fail miserably in the long run.’ Self-control can fail when it comes to weight control. What-the-hell effect. Once you bust your calorie intake for the day, you have failed and will just continue eating. Your body knows what is the optimal amount of food you should eat. Diets rely more on external cues, not internal ones. Obese people were in fact more likely to go on diets. However, once you fail to follow to the plan strictly, you are screwed. Suppressing your feelings while in the cinema tends to cause you to overeat later. Dieters are trapped in this cycle. This the nutritional catch-22. ‘In order not to eat, a dieter needs willpower. In order to have willpower, a dieter needs to eat.’ Other ways of fighting the flab include precommitment. Keep the sweet food out of reach and out of sight. Brush your teeth early in the night is one way. There are websites where you can set penalties for yourselves if you fail to hit certain targets. Try to switch to automatic thinking. Whenever you think of sweet food, put on your running shoes, for instance. Constant monitoring like weighing yourself will help a lot in weight loss. Buy smaller plates and thin glasses at home. Avoid snacking when watching a movie. Simply by telling yourself you can eat something later is a way of ‘satisfying’ your craving now. When it comes to desserts, tell yourself that you can have it later. Never say never to nice food. Just say you will be able to have it tomorrow.

‘The best way to reduce stress in your life is to stop screwing up.’ People with good self-control need to resist to temptations less. This is ironic. The explanation is that people like that know how to keep their lives in order so as to minimize conflicts. Don’t procrastinate. That is the key. It is extremely common to procrastinate. The problem stems from impulsiveness. Men face more of this problem than women. When faced with a difficult task, men tend to be impulsive and do something else to make themselves feel good. It is not good to work under tight deadlines as your performance suffers. It seems like from research, procrastinators are healthier, but they suffer more in terms of grades. Every decision you make requires willpower and it will make you feel tired. How to sense for ego depletion? Once depleted, you will be liable to make mistakes. Force yourself to think long term and write down your decision steps. If you need to think very hard, remember to eat first. This includes an exercise regime, picking up a new skill etc. Pick the right battles in your life. Do self-reflection at least once a year. Use it to track your progress of goals. Don’t be too ambitious. Set yourself tight deadlines if you know you have the ability to achieve them. ‘Make a to-do list’ with a specific plan. To avoid the planning fallacy of being overly ambitious, think back to your past. Even if you are working on your goal, don’t forget to exercise and take care of your hygiene. Ensure adequate sleep. Change a bad routine. Try to delay your gratification. Monitor your goals frequently. Give yourself rewards as they will continue to motivate you. Research has shown that people with willpower are more altruistic and more willing to help others.

The secret of my incredible energy and efficiency in getting work done is a simple one. The psychological principle is that anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment. – Robert Benchley

Write or nothing. It’s the same principle as keeping order in a school. If you make the pupils behave, they will learn something just to keep from being bored. I find it works. Two very simple rules, a) you don’t have to write, b) you can’t do anything else. The rest comes of itself. – Raymond Chandler





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