How Far Could The Willpower Go?
Some see it as a muscle others consider it as an unlimited source.
You probably relate to that short moment where you had to decide between hitting “stop” over “next episode” or getting “sparkling water” over “coffee”.
In such situations, the outcome boils down to making a decision, which derives from willpower.
Accordingly, willpower could be seen as our ability to sacrifice immediate pleasure for longer-terms rewards.
In the previous cases, it would be giving up a caprice for better sleep quality. Thus, for better decision-making, we would want stronger willpower. So how far could we push our self-discipline as we make a decision?
💪The willpower workout:
There is a solid theory about willpower being a muscle that can be reinforced.
The idea consists in training your discipline mechanisms to grant them better performance and endurance. For instance, to reduce your soda consumption, it is more effective to drop your daily intake by a can every two weeks instead of an immediate drop to zero. Over time, your willpower strengthens allowing you to move one step further. The main challenge remains to figure the right restriction dose. Otherwise, the attempt might collapse.
Just like any other muscle, rest and refuel are a part of the training. For example, you could afford a wildcard day where you set no limitations for your soda consumption.
This kind of reset manoeuvers works thanks to your rewarding system. It is the part of the brain which releases happiness and satisfaction hormones after fulfilling a goal or a challenge. It is also the one that motivates you in the first place. However, it tends to be a shady mechanism because, most of the time, the “effort vs reward” equation is not well balanced. For instance, walking to the fridge is not really worthy of an ice cream treat. Not to mention, clumsy prize options can sabotage your progress.
The reward mechanism is not coated with common sense. It is our responsability to be conscious and clever about picking our rewards.
For instance, instead of an “unlimited soda day”, which could spoil your efforts, you could opt for a monthly fancy dinner or weekend-trip using the economies you make from reducing your sugary drinks intake.
This enhancement technique has been working for me for over a year. I eat properly six days a week. Then on Saturdays, I go crazy on brownies, cookies, cheese, and fried cuisine.
Month after month, eating healthily got easier. I even enjoyed it and felt less needy about abusive cheat meals. My willpower got stronger. So I expanded the same pattern into other enriching habits like going to the gym and listening to audiobooks. It was working almost effortlessly. I even had friends teasing me about being “an infinite willpower monster”.
However, if they were right, why do I still spend hours browsing anime scenes on Youtube instead of folding my laundry?
⚙️The decision-making machine:
Once again, I was missing a key factor. There is an additional discrete player pulling strings in the decision-making game.
In order to understand it, I looked back at my eating behaviors. What happened is quite simple: The change became the standard. In other words, following healthy nutrition progressively became a part of who I am. Hence, I stopped pouring from my self-discipline cup to do it. This transition built up slowly by means of repetition.
In fact, whenever your brain gets used to any task, it rewires itself to get better at doing it. Gradually, it consumes less energy and less time. That would translate into willpower amplification. Finally, that repeated task becomes the primary default behavior. The science behind it is called neuroplasticity.
Consequently, we could say that “my infinite willpower” is simply a long term development from “consistent effort” to “default state”. Put differently, it is the shift from “I eat healthy six days a week” to “I am healthy in my food choices”. It might look similar. It is not.
The former is a repeated action. The latter is a set of behaviors taping into complex decision-making mechanisms covering recipe choices, shopping tendencies and more.
This kind of transition is simple yet it requires time and persistence. Plus, there are no shortcuts. Nonetheless, there are several handy hacks out there like slicing and stacking habits. But that is a whole topic for another story.
For the moment, keep in mind that “all change is hard at first, messy in the middle and so gorgeous at the end” as highlighted Robin Sharma in his book The 5 AM Club.
In short, willpower shifts decision-making almost by force. Then, repetition shape them progressively. Once a behavior becomes a part of who you are, it no longer requires willpower.
Therefore, you would not need to squeeze your willpower muscle for life. You only commit during the first chapters of habit implementation. Afterward, repetition gradually configures your decision-making mechanisms.
It is a long game of building a better version of ourselves. It reminds me of a funny yet deep quote:
“First, you shape your habits, then your habits shape you.”