Where there is a will there is a way. We all know this adage. If only we put our heart in and focus on an issue, we’ll get through it. A nice motivator. But, unlike popular belief, willpower is not limitless. Research tells us it is a finite resource and needs to be used carefully. According to me there are two major ‘willpower wasters’ we encounter on a day to day basis – avoiding temptations & decision making. Let’s see how –
Scenario 1 – You are on a diet regime, but walked into an eatery displaying a new pastry. Do you think you can control yourself from eating? You are financially broke but walked into a mall running sales. Do you think it’ll be easy to control your expenditure? You have to prepare for an examination but turn on the TV. Do you think you can switch off the TV in the middle of a good movie?
Scenario 2 – Have you ever been to a restaurant and spent thirty minutes just looking at the menu unable to decide which curry you’d like to order from the fifteen listed in the menu? Did you anytime get up in the morning not sure what to wear that day to work and spent half hour just trying to figure that out? Have you walked into a mall, wondering which butter to buy from the available 10 varieties in each brand?
Two scenarios. One requiring you to exercise your will power to control yourself and the other requiring you to use it in choosing. What to do then?
Avoid Temptations – Don’t walk into a mall when you are financially broke. Don’t switch on the TV when you know you need to prepare. Don’t goto a bakery when you know you’ll be tempted. Don’t go online when you know you’ll waste time. Don’t accompany your colleague for smoke breaks when you are planning to quit smoking. Avoid temptations. Simple. Just don’t do it. Walking into a mall and then expecting not to spend is laying groundwork for failure. Also, setup routines. When you know where you’ll go, what you’ll do & how you’ll do, it will be easy to remove distractions/temptations involved in the path.
Routinize – as much as possible in our life. Like simple decisions, lifestyle choices, workflows, etc. Activities like what you wear to work, where you shop, which brand you prefer, what time you getup, how your desk is organized, which saloon you visit, automate these kind of choices. Instead of thinking where you’d like to shop that weekend, or what you want to eat for dinner, how about having a standard menu or shopping only at one store that fits our needs? Did you see Steve Jobs wear anything but his trademark turtle neck t-shirt? Even President Obama said, he doesn’t choose his clothes. Can we take a hint here and automate these maintenance activities? But, what does this mean? Am I saying we should never take spontaneous decisions? That we should eat the same food everyday for the rest of our life? That we should not watch TV? That we should not indulge in spontaneity? No. Absolutely no. We do need variety. We do need to be spontaneous. But how often do we need it is the question we need to ask ourselves. Do we need a different menu everyday? Do we need to visit a different mall every week? Do we need to try a different dish every time we visit a restaurant? By keeping these ‘out of routine’ moments in limit, we save ourselves from decision fatigue thereby freeing our will to focus on essentials.