Ponder your way to a more successful future.

Do More. Procrastinate Less.

Willpower is the ability to deny yourself and the ability to reject immediate gratification for your future benefit.  The stronger it is the easier it can be to make tough decisions like making the bed in the morning, cleaning after getting home from a long day at work, or making food at home rather than simply stopping off at a fast-food restaurant on your way home. With a lack of it, we start to lose what makes us us. Without it, we would be little more than the product of our habits.

If you want to stick to your goals, but find yourself procrastinating. If you find yourself frustrated and irritable when someone asks you to do something that you hadn’t originally planned on like doing the dishes or taking out the trash or if you just simply wish you had the energy to get up and get some things done on your weekends but find it hard to get out of bed you may be happy to hear that the APA (American Psychology Association) says that willpower behaves much like a muscle in that it can be strengthened. This is done using a process similar to the overload principle in fitness. That is, with an incremented load on your willpower through increased use you can strengthen its endurance. In this article, I’ll be focusing on how to increase the amount of willpower you have available to you as well as provide some tips on how to more efficiently and purposely use the willpower you already have.

Increase Willpower

1. Create Goals

If you don’t have something you want to get done in the future why would you deny yourself in the present? In order to get yourself to do things that you know are good for you, you have to have a motivation or a reason to do it. Create a goal, visualize it, and whenever you come across temptation to stray from the goal bring up that visualized picture.

2. Meditation

Do nothing. Practice doing nothing. Bring yourself into the moment. Let your body sit naturally, close your eyes, and do nothing. Allow your mind to wander. Stop controlling the thoughts, just observe them, and let them pass. You can couple this with mindful breathing if you like. Or just simply let yourself exist.    

When you’ve got a million things racing through your brain every minute it can be hard to focus on what to do next and you end up using up all your willpower simply worrying about what needs to be done or things that might even be out of your control.

3. Exercise

Exercise is great for all of us, but it’s hard to get into the habit of it. Your goals are irrelevant in this. Whether you want to run faster, further, get stronger. It doesn’t matter. Just go! This is where the practice part comes in. If you can successfully get into the routine of making yourself go to the gym you can do anything! This is even further validated by a study done at the University of Kansas that links routine exercise with increased levels of willpower or self-control.

More on the study: https://news.ku.edu/2017/08/30/new-study-links-exercise-better-self-control

Conserve Willpower

1. Focus on the goal, not what you’re giving up

If you’re trying to get your work done before 10 pm don’t focus on trying not to procrastinate. Instead, focus on what you need to get done. If you’re trying to eat healthier, don’t focus on avoiding foods you like or enjoy, but rather focus on eating the healthier foods.

2. Keep a schedule

If there is something you don’t like doing, or is hard to do for any other reason, do it at the same time every day. Eventually, that action will become a habit and you’ll find that it gets a lot easier to do. It doesn’t mean that you have to sit down every day and plan your schedule for the day, or the next day, if you want to take it to the next level, that would be beneficial, but you just have to tell yourself that after work or at lunch you’re going to the gym or when you get home you’re immediately going to do the dishes, or when you wake up you’re immediately going to make your bed.

3. Turn repeated tasks into habits

Similar to 2, but take the decision-making out of the equation. Turn the things you want or need to do into habits. I’ll write more about habits in another post, but to be brief, break those things you want to do down into the three main building blocks of a habit. Que/trigger, routine, reward. For the gym after work example. The trigger would be getting off work, the routine will be going to the gym and doing your workout, and the reward in this case can just be as simple as the dopamine that is released after a workout.

4. Eliminate harmful habits

Don’t let your willpower be sapped by actions or items that are overstepping their bounds. Create boundaries with anything that doesn’t stimulate your mind or use some form of willpower. For me, that would be watching shows. I love it and I do it a lot, but I need boundaries with that activity so that it doesn’t overstep consume all my time. If drinking or an addiction is your vice, create boundaries with it, and if it starts encroaching check yourself. Eliminating or reduce addictive behaviors and don’t let them run you.


Photos by Prasanth Inturi, Julia M Cameron, and Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

Be a Boring Driver

     Stoicism is the pursuit of self-mastery; philosophy put into practice. It is the separation of decision-making from emotion and studious analysis of a situation before an action is taken. Stoicism is making deliberate decisions while being cognizant of natural influences on decisions like emotions or hormones or social influences like peer pressure or social roles. It is the thought process for many leaders and the path to a more happy self for others. However, it doesn’t come overnight and requires practice and repetition.

 

     There are several parts of life where you can practice stoicism. From how you react in everyday interactions with family, friends, and coworkers, to adhering to a fitness routine. However, one place, in particular, is a fantastic spot to start your practice; driving.    

 

     When driving, especially when you’re in a hurry, it’s easy to succumb to emotion and create an experience that is frustrating and stressful. When driving there is an illusion of progress that most people chase. We want to feel like we’re making progress and when we see someone pass us we take it as a sign that we aren’t going fast enough or worse, a sign of disrespect. Next time you’re in your car on your way to work or during a road trip pick a speed, either the speed limit or 5 mph over. Then when a car inevitably comes to pass you monitor your speed and try to maintain it. Chances are you will have an urge to speed up, even if it’s just slightly. If you maintain your speed you feel like you’re doing something wrong. However, that’s not necessarily the case. Maintaining speed and keeping a safe distance from the car in front of you while disregarding what behaviors the other cars are displaying makes for a much less stressful drive, frees up attention to allow you to listen to a podcast, audiobook, or even just to turn on some lofi and think by providing a much more predictable and safe driving environment. Please note, there are still people that make seemingly nonsensical driving decisions that you have to pay attention to, but generally being a boring driver frees up a lot of attention.     

     

     You may hear this and think I’m crazy or that I don’t understand the sense of hustle and needing to be somewhere on time, but if you think this way please hear me out. If you have a daily commute try timing yourself for two days. The first day drive normal. On the second day, be a boring driver and time yourself. It’s very likely that your commute time doesn’t differ much. It may be a couple of minutes longer, or even a couple of minutes shorter. The truth is, the things that affect your commute times the most are the things you can’t control like traffic conditions, lights, wrecks, etc. and trying to recover from them by driving fast may satisfy a short term craving for progress but it does more to stress you than to address the issue. Therefore shift your focus to less costly controllables like departing times or listening to traffic conditions while you brush your teeth so you’re better prepared for the drive. Or for reactive options that you can’t prepare for like an unavoidable wreck instead of trying to regain 2 minutes by driving crazy, opt to phone your boss or loved one and keep them in the loop. I promise they’re going to care much more that they were notified and had expectations for your late arrival than you showing up 10 minutes late just to hear you try to justify it by informing them that you drove really fast. The end result is the same, you’re late. The only difference being in the former example it was expected, and in the latter the person was blind-sighted.     

 

     If your concern with this style of driving is that it will cause traffic to back up, you’re potentially correct. My only rebuttal to this is don’t do that. Be aware of your surroundings and if you’re making people hit their breaks and change lanes. If that’s happening and you have miles of open road ahead of you, speed up a bit. The goal isn’t to be an asshole, it’s to make a predictable driving environment for yourself and other drivers to mutually benefit everyone. When you drive at or slightly above the speed limit and keep a safe distance, you are generally promoting a more efficient road since traffic is more likely due to people switching lanes paired with the slinky effect.     

   

     Moral of the story. Driving faster than other drivers doesn’t benefit you. It doesn’t tangibly affect your arrival time (except for road trips, but even on these relax when traffic is heavy and speed up when the road is clear for the best driving experience), it doesn’t make people less upset with you for being late, it doesn’t do anyone else any favors, and it adds a lot of stress. Being a boring driver. Free up and utilize the time you would be stressing about the car driving too slow in the left lane for audiobooks, listening to ted talks, taking in the environment, or pondering the vast intricacies of life while trying to grasp and find the beauty in the insignificance of human existence.
Here is a list of questions to ask yourself when driving before deviating from the slow and steady path:

  • Why do you want to do the thing you want to do?
    • Do you want to go 20 over the speed limit? Do you want to pass the car going the speed limit? Do you want to get into the left lane? Why? Are you doing it to save time? Are you doing it because you want to have fun and going fast is fun? Or are you doing it because someone was passing you and it just feels like you aren’t making progress?
    • An example of this would be in stop-and-go traffic. Have you ever been in heavy traffic and you’re in one lane and the other lane starts to speed up while you’re still sitting still so the first chance you get, you switch to that other lane just to have it come to a stop and the lane you were initially in start moving? Just relax. You will get there and the illusion of other people getting a leg up on you by moving is just that; an illusion.
  • Does the action fulfill its why?
    • If you’re late to an appointment will going really fast just to stop at a traffic light really help you?
  • Is the why valid?
    • I personally think getting in the left lane and going fast is fun. So on a road trip or a Sunday drive that may be a valid reason. However, when a car passes and I feel like I’m not making as much progress as others. That is more of an emotional response without merit and probably isn’t a valid reason.
  • Does my action affect others negatively?
    • This is a big one. If the left lane is packed with people trying to get ahead and you try to squeeze your way into it so that you too can go slightly faster and in the process, you kick off a slinky effect that could turn into stop and go traffic for people that come later and add other people a lot of stress is it worth it? In the left lane the people may get where they’re going 45 seconds faster, but is that 45 seconds you save worth causing several other people 10 minutes on their commute down the line? That’s kind of an extreme example but demonstrates a point. When driving, people have to pay a price for you to have an ego and you pay the price for other’s egos. Spread some positivity and show some humility for the benefit of others. Even if they aren’t willing to do the same.

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” -Winston Churchill

Do you really need enemies to validate your stance on a subject? While being passionate about a topic may mean voicing a stance that might be in direct contrast to another person’s passionate stance and therefore creating a naturally confrontational relationship, it doesn’t mean that you have to further develop the relationship that way. When presented with information that you don’t agree with please don’t disregard it, throw a label on the other person, and chalk them up as nonsensical. In today’s world of heightened tensions and a country seemingly dividing itself in all subjects, it’s important to teach ourselves to rephrase opposing stances as opinions formed on another person’s perception of the topic at hand based on their limitations of access to certain information, environmental stimuli, and personal needs.


People, in general, want to be revered as good and tend to gravitate towards ideas that support their vision of the greatest good for them, their families, and their communities. It’s our human nature to see how our actions affect those that we interact with and for us to take a vested interest in impacting those people’s lives. However, when we become aware of people outside our community making decisions that affect those lives in which we have a vested interest we tend to get defensive and are more likely to take an adverse stance to anything presented by the outside party. Being cognizant of this defensive mechanism is crucial to expanding our communities and finding solutions that work to everyone’s benefit. This tendency is also the greatest source of tension that left untreated will lead to the development of enemies.


When we run into someone with other ideas hear them out. Take notice of your biases, preconceptions of them or their stance, and instead of trying to impose your stance on the other person try to identify the sources that led to the development of the different stances and aim to shape a new view with your newfound insight and broader, more developed perception.
When you notice someone putting in this type of effort it’s hard to think ill of them. To take a metaphor from Avatar: The Last Airbender, this kind of effort acts as the water from the shore washing up and smoothing the stones on the beach of ember island, washing the friction away.


In conclusion, having enemies doesn’t necessarily mean you stand for something. Having enemies more likely points towards your unwillingness to widen your perception, apply empathy, and develop your own understandings. While having enemies is not something to avoid at all costs, it should never be the goal.