In a 2012 talk at the Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition titled Willpower: Self-Control, Decision-Making and Energy Depletion, Roy Baumeister, a social psychology expert and professor at Florida State, discussed his research on how the brain’s frontal lobe is wired regarding choices and habits that require willpower, or what we can also call discipline.
What’s interesting is that he found we possess a finite supply of this critical resource. When you are depleted, so is your willpower to do the right things.
My friend Dr. Kirk Parsley agrees. A former SEAL and expert on sleep, Kirk tells us that after a good night’s sleep, your reserves of willpower are freshly charged and topped off. Then as you move through your day, you tap into your reserve for each choice you face and decision you make. Each time you face a choice and use your powers of reasoning—even for something as minor as saying no to the cream-filled donut—you will exhaust a bit of your supply. As the day wears on, you can empty this tank and start making poor decisions and suffer from a weakened state of willpower. Essentially they are both linking fatigue with our power to make good choices. Sounds like an obvious conclusion to me, so what’s the big deal?
In Baumeister’s talk, he mentions how Audi dealerships figured this out and when a new car buyer was considering the many options in front of them, the salesman purposely led them through a laundry list of options forcing them to make decisions starting with the cheapest, most insignificant and saving the more expensive for later. Customers often showed fatigue from the early rounds of decision-making and when the big ticket items came up, basically said, “Yeah, sure, whatever!”
What’s the key takeaway here? Well, now we know that we can be on the look out for how it negatively impacts us. Additionally, we can employ strategies to re-charge our willpower throughout the day. We need to start thinking about willpower and grit as precious commodities to be developed and nurtured. We do this through our morning ritual, integrated training sessions, evening ritual and spot drills. Try to make these habitual and reflexive. Like brushing your teeth every day, you do them without burning willpower reserves, and in doing so build up the reserve and your energy.
Also, keep this research in mind as you organize your life. Try and reduce the number of inputs and choices that may be taxing your reserves for little benefit. A key principle I discuss in The Way of the SEAL is KISS: Keep It Simple, Sally. Pare down your choices and focus your efforts on the most important things so you can channel your willpower toward those goals and dreams that are most important to you.
PS: Look for the trade paperback edition of The Way of the SEAL in February, and the companion online course is available now at http://www.wayofthesealcourse.com/.