Sunday, September 18, 2011


This morning on NPR, I heard an interview with John Tierney, co-author of a book called Willpower. The main point was that willpower can be strengthened by practice, but it also can get depleted.

I think depletion of willpower explains how often toward the end of the work week, on a Thursday or Friday evening, I feel the urge to stay up late reading fiction or surfing the internet, and the urge to skip tasks such as exercise. At those times, I feel I have been spending all my time working hard, and I want to rebel.

A point made in the interview was that we can help ourselves by not straining our willpower. One example given was that sitting next to a plate of cookies and not eating them depletes our willpower. I have removed strains on my willpower from my environment. Now it is only the computer and fiction that tempt me to stay up too late. In the past, there were also TV and computer games, but those are no longer available in my home, which has made it less of a strain on my willpower to go to bed on time.

The story also noted that we can strengthen our willpower by exercising it. Examples of exercises mentioned in the interview included maintaining good posture, using correct grammar, meditation, and prayer. I do practice daily meditation, and I think it has helped me with willpower. I don't think of it as helping so much because it takes discipline to do it. I think of it helping more because in meditation (as well as my other daily druid practices), I take some time to be aware of how I feel and what's important to me. I put things in perspective. I remember the long-term consequences, instead of only focusing only on the immediate urge.

It may seem contradictory that we can strengthen our willpower by 1) not depleting it, and 2) exercising it, but the same is true of our physical energy.

What can I do for my willpower? I think my druid practices help to exercise my willpower. I think that allowing some time to relax on a daily and weekly basis helps me recharge when my willpower is depleted.

I think one problem that I have is that the number of things I want to do is about 10 times the amount I have the time and energy for. I do try to set priorities on a day to day basis, but maybe I should apply some of my willpower to setting realistic goals, even though it will require letting go of some things that I really want to do.

I think another problem is that I don't like my job. Therefore, my willpower gets depleted because I have to spend so much time trying to force myself to stay focused on doing something I don't want to do. I think that's the reason I don't narrow my to-do list -- because what I really want to do is to not have to have a job that I don't like. If I could spend less time on doing what I hate, I would have the time to do the things I want. And of course my to-do list would be smaller if I had a job I liked, because right now a huge chunk of my to-do list relates to trying to get a job I don't hate.

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