We only have a finite amount of willpower at any given moment. You use the same amount of it on every task, so why would you waste it on trivial things?
Every day, in one form or another, you exert willpower. You resist the urge to surf Facebook instead of finishing your expense report. You struggle to drive by your favorite burger joint and opt to have a salad. You bite your tongue when you’d like to make a snarky comment to your boss.
Yet a growing body of research shows that resisting repeated temptations takes a mental toll on us. Some experts liken willpower to a muscle that can get fatigued from overuse.
Kathleen Vohs, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota, notes:
“There is research that shows people still have the same self-control as in decades past, but we are bombarded more and more with temptations,” and that “our psychological system is not set up to deal with all the potential immediate gratification.”
As a result, our subconscious takes a beating everyday from the nominal tasks of mundane life. Everything from “what am I going to wear today” to “where should we go for dinner?” to “OMG what’s the price of Bitcoin today?!” wears on the finite amount of willpower we have.
You may be wondering, how do Mark Zuckerberg and others combat this silent mental killer?
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Throughout the past decade mentally elite have figured out a pretty basic truth. The fact that they shouldn’t waste their time and energy on irrelevant things that can be pre-determined or automated.
Steve Jobs did the exact same thing by wearing a black turtle neck everyday. Not only did he look suave by dressing like everyday was Christmas in the 80’s, but rather he instilled the habits of choice minimalism into his lifestyle.
Simply put by Tim Ferris:
The choice-minimal lifestyle becomes an attractive tool when we consider two truths:
1) Considering options costs attention that then can’t be spent on action or present-state awareness.
2) Attention is necessary for not only productivity but appreciation.
Too many choices = less or no productivity
Too many choices = less or no appreciation
Too many choices = sense of overwhelm
This is your subconscious when your dealing with too many choices everyday.
What This Means For You
- Audit your daily life — Start a journal and begin tracking all the choices you make every day.
- Measure the results — Review your journal and group decisions by category. Then ask, “Does this decision affect my desired outcomes?” Many of them won’t.
- Do a Pareto analysis — Ask yourself, “What are the 20% decisions I make take up 80% or more of my time?” Those are the ones to tackle first.
Next, you need to begin to actually implementing these changes into your life. Don’t try to flip the switch and start living your minimalistic life overnight. Take it one step at a time.
Start with something simple, like creating a consistent morning routine that can be repeated exactly the same everyday. For example:
- Wake up at 5am
- Put on the clothes you laid out the night before
- Eat the fruit you set up for yourself on the counter
- Go to the gym
- Follow an exercise program you consistently stick with
- Go home and drink a protein shake
- Shower and get ready for the day
Though this may sound simple, it all starts with actually doing something and sticking to it. That’s why you shouldn’t bite off more than you can chew. After you go through this process with one thing, do it with another.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
Before you know it, you’ll be using all the willpower you saved to make some big-time decisions, not whether you should eat a tide pod or not.
Thanks for reading! If you liked this piece I think you’d really like my other essays about how Micro-Habits Changed My Life as well as The Beginner’s Guide to Creating an Online Training Program.