Harnessing the Horses, or Willpower 101

1.  Know your limits.  Willpower is a limited resource that you draw upon throughout the day.  Better to focus on one project at a time than to try to change everything about your life in one go. 

2.  Watch your glucose levels.  Exercising your willpower depletes your blood sugar, which is why those sugary snacks look so tempting when you've been working hard, particularly when you've been making lots of decisions.  Better to eat slow-burning protein and fat so that you don't crash.  Also, be sure to get enough sleep.

3.  Make a plan, but keep it flexible.  Set monthly rather than daily goals, so that there is room for variation while still keeping to the larger plan.  Declutter--and then make a list of the baby steps (Next Actions) that you need to take first.

4.  Work in brief, regular sessions with plenty of breaks so as to guard against bingeing and decision fatigue.  Start before you feel ready; stop before you feel done.

5.  Monitor your activity; make it public.

6.  Precommit to virtue.  Create order (i.e. declutter--again) and orderly habits.  "Focus on lofty thoughts"--the "why" of your activity rather than the "how."

7.  Pray.  Pray for help--or ask for it from others.  Pray regularly, ideally according to a schedule.  Set "bright lines"--clear, simple, unambiguous rules--according to which you commit to live.

8.  Set clear and attainable but high goals.  Reward excellence, but punish failure--i.e. give yourself clear feedback.  If all else fails, do nothing.  Wait

--Paraphrased from Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney, Willpower: Recovering the Greatest Human Strength (New York: Penguin Press, 2011).


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