Control exerted to do something or restrain impulses.

Oxford English Dictionary

Willpower is a much studied phenomenon. I’ve read about how I have a finite amount of it and how it can be exercised like a muscle to get more. And I’ve read about how both of those studies were bunk and now we really know how it works. I’ve read about famous people with more of it than me. I’ve read about famous people with less of it, too. There’s studies about which foods give you more of it, which smells lessen it, and everything in between.

I give up.

I’m not listening to what people tell me about my own willpower. What do they know? Well, probably a lot actually since they’re published in peer reviewed journals. But that’s besides the point. They don’t know me. Sure, I know they’re trying to be helpful, but they can stop. I’m no longer paying them any attention.

(Yes, this will take some amount of willpower, and yes, I’m aware of the irony.)

From now on I’m going to start paying attention to my own willpower. Here’s what I think I know:

  1. Hesitation is the worst. If I get it in my head to wake up in the morning and instantly swing my feet out of bed, I’m already thinking about what’s next before I have a chance to regret it. If, on the other hand, I delay getting up. If I do some math on the merits of a napping versus getting ready in a hurry. If I wonder how cold it is outside of the covers. If I stop and debate at all, I’m done for. I’m only making it harder on myself for something I have to do eventually.
  2. I don’t know if I have a finite amount of willpower or not, but if I believe I have enough, then I do. Likewise, if I believe I’m tapped out, then I’m giving up before I even start trying. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, a prophecy that I can make up and start proselytizing to the rest of me.
  3. The laws of physics seem to apply to this abstract non-entity. Action begets momentum, and momentum begets action. Conversely, an object at rest tends to stay at rest. If you finished the second half of Newton’s axiom in your head – you know, the “unequal force” bit – then see #1 before you start ruminating on what that force is.
  4. Dress for success. My p.j. pants are staying firmly planted to the couch with my ass inside them. If I put on a button down shirt, suddenly I’m a more capable person. If I roll up those sleeves, now I’m ready to get my hands dirty. Literally. Or Figuratively. Whatever. I think this has to do with #2.
  5. With great music comes great responsibility. Paul Simon can help me clean the entire house in an afternoon and let’s me call him “Al.” But he and Julio can pull a fast one on me. One minute I’m reading a book and the next I’m humming down by the schoolyard and I don’t know what page I’m on anymore. Use with caution.
  6. Guilt is another interesting motivator. Don’t Break the Chain can be a fun game and lead to some proud achievements. But it can subtly turn into a chore. You know what they say about all work and no play.
  7. I haven’t quite figured out a reward system. If I fail the goal, then I’m punishing myself maybe even for putting in a good effort. If I pass, then I wonder if I’m cheating myself. Could the goal have been too easy? Could I have accomplished more if I didn’t stop to enjoy the reward? Am I asking too many rhetorical questions? Of course I am. I’ll eat my cake and have it, too. It probably doesn’t have anything to do with willpower anyway.

Moral of the story: I don’t know anything about willpower. You read the thing about the cake, right? But I know that reading about other people’s willpower isn’t going to make any of it rub off on me. I need to figure out what makes me tick and then change my surroundings and actions accordingly. Anything less is doing myself a disservice.

Know Thyself

PS - The word “if” appears in this post 17 times. That’s probably too many to be considered good writing. But what if I never wrote it at all?