Willpower | John Tierney & Roy Baumister

Published in: 2012

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This book is written by psychology professor Roy Baumeister and journalist John Tierney. The authors compile the latest in self-control and willpower, i.e. studies that have shown that we have a limited amount of willpower. However, our willpower can be trained and improved. For example, the successful marshmallow children (from the famous “marshmallow test”) could resist the temptation by focusing on something else.

TWO CRUCIAL CHARACTERISTICS. Willpower and intelligence are essential for happiness, health, wealth and general well-being. We cannot do much about our intelligence. But we can influence our self-control and willpower.

“When psychologists isolate the personal qualities that predict “positive outcomes” in life, they consistently find two traits: intelligence and self-control. So far researchers still haven’t learned how to permanently increase intelligence. But they have discovered, or at least rediscovered, how to improve self-control”.

WILLPOWER – LIKE A BATTERY. Our willpower works like a battery. Getting dressed, choosing food, deciding whether to take a run, consider an issue at work or to resist sweets – everything reduces our willpower battery. People who are exposed to lots of temptations drain the energy in their battery and usually feel more cravings for sweets. A low battery not only leads to worse decisions, but it also means that we eat worse, which in turn means that we get less energy and with it less willpower – a vicious spiral that quickly escalates.  

“The link between willpower and decision-making works both ways: Decision making depletes your willpower, and once your willpower is depleted, you’re less able to make decisions.”

CHARGE WITH SLEEP. The battery can only be charged by rest, or short-term with glucose. If we sleep too little, the battery does not have time to be fully charged. However, it is not certain that 8 hours will be enough to get a fully charged battery. If differs from person to person. Studies have shown that those who live the longest sleep 6.5 hours per night and those who sleep 8 hours have a significantly shorter life. Life expectancy does not depend on the number of hours slept but on how you live. The healthiest people do not need more than 6.5 hours to function well. Those who are less healthy need more sleep for recovery.

A MUSCLE TO BE TRAINED. Everything from health problems, substance abuse, relationship and financial problems usually stems from low willpower. Willpower is a muscle that, when used, becomes tired. By exercising self-control, we train the muscle and self-control in one area will spill over to other parts of our lives. If we eat healthier and drink less alcohol, we will have a better work and private life. Our immediate environment also affects our willpower. If we have a clean and tidy office, the willpower – everything else being equal – is higher than if it is messy.

MONITORING. The methods of anonymous Alcoholics and Weight Watchers are largely based on accounting and measuring everything we do. By keeping statistics, we can create good behaviors that are difficult to break. At every opportunity where we consider deviating from the planned route, we see, in addition to the feeling of shame to fail, also a blunder in the notes.

AVOID RATHER THAN RESIST. The average person in the West spends a fifth of his waking time resisting temptation. The most important thing is not to successfully resist temptation – it still drains our battery. The important thing is to avoid situations that drain our willpower. Those who have the best self-control are usually not the best at resisting temptations but have instead built-up routines and habits so as not to be exposed to the temptations. They play offensively instead of defensively.

MAKE NO IMPORTANT DECISION LATE AT DAY. The more decisions we make, the less energy we have for self-control. Therefore, we should never make big and important decisions after a long and active day – the battery is simply discharged. If we do not have energy, we cannot control ourselves.

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