‘People with the best self-control are the ones who structure their lives so as to conserve willpower. They don’t schedule endless back-to-back meetings. They avoid temptations like all-you-can-eat buffets, and they establish habits that eliminate the mental effort of making choices. Instead of deciding every morning whether or not to force themselves to exercise, they set up regular appointments to work out with a friend. Instead of counting on willpower to remain robust all day, they conserve it so that it’s available for emergencies and important decisions.’
That’s the New York Times on ‘decision fatigue’, the phenomenon whereby your brain gets tired after having to make difficult choices or resist temptation all day.
It reminded me of a great podcast I listened to earlier this year by a dude who spent years studying the self-help industry. His main finding was that most people who turn to self-help books and seminars don’t just want to eat less, exercise more, work harder and find love, but they want to do all these things simultaneously. Instead of focusing on a specific goal, they want to become the kind of person who does everything they value at once.
Just like the NYTimes article, Burkeman says the successful improvers–the self-helped, I guess–were the ones who thought of their own willpower as a reservoir rather than a spring. You can increase the size of the reservoir, but it’s always capable of running out.
I still sometimes rely on the phrase ‘do something every day that scares you’ as a motivation to try new stuff. Maybe I should add ‘do something every day you’re proud of … and that’s enough’.