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7 mins
book summary willpower
Shawn L
Builds stuff minimally
Table of Contents

The highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognize that we ought to control our thoughts.

The Radish Experiment

To avoid smirking at the next meeting, refrain from any strenuous mental exercises beforehand.

And feel free to think about all the white bears you want. Because controlling not to think about the about white bears deplete your willpower.

The Mystery of the Dirty Socks

The more willpower people expended, the more likely they became to yield to the next temptation that came along.

Lessons from the Street and the Lab

  1. You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it.
  2. You use the same stock of willpower for all manner of tasks.
  3. Focus on one project at a time.

If you set more than one self-improvement goal, you may succeed for a while by drawing on reserves to power through, but that just leaves you more depleted and more prone to serious mistakes later.

People who are trying to quit smoking, for example, will have their best shot at succeeding if they aren’t changing other behaviors at the same time.

A better plan is to make one resolution and stick to it.

Eat Your Way to Willpower

Glucose depletion can turn the most charming companion into a monster. The old advice about eating a good breakfast applies all day long.

If you have a test, an important meeting, or a vital project, don’t take it on without glucose.

Better off eating foods with a low glycemic index: most vegetables, nuts (like peanuts and cashews), many raw fruits (like apples, blueberries, and pears), cheese, fish, meat, olive oil, and other “good” fats.

When you’re tired, sleep.

The first step in self-control is to set a clear goal.

For most of us, though, the problem is not a lack of goals but rather too many of them.

Which Goals?

A short-term perspective can make you more likely to become addicted, and then the addiction can further shrink your horizons as you focus on quick rewards.

Fuzzy Versus Fussy

One mess at a time is all you can handle. Two messes at a time, you’re screwed.

Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at their colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket, and can’t resist the car dealer’s offer to rustproof their new sedan.

The Judge’s Dilemma (and the Prisoner’s Distress)

Decision making depletes your willpower, and once your willpower is depleted, you’re less able to make decisions. If your work requires you to make hard decisions all day long, at some point you’re going to be depleted and start looking for ways to conserve energy. You’ll look for excuses to avoid or postpone decisions. You’ll look for the easiest and safest option.

Often we’re so eager to keep options open that we don’t see the long-term price that we’re paying. Say no.

Not-So-Invidious Comparisons

“I make tons of weird goals for myself. Like, when I’m jogging in the park in the bike lane, whenever I go over a drawing of a biker, I have to step on it.”

Getting your brain wired into little goals and achieving them, that helps you achieve the bigger things you shouldn’t be able to do

Willpower Workouts

Practicing emotional control does not strengthen your willpower.

The key is to concentrate on changing a habitual behavior. Like using a different hand for routine tasks.

Another training strategy is to change your speech habits.

The Empathy Gap

Willpower is humans’ greatest strength, but the best strategy is not to rely on it in all situations. Save it for emergencies. As Stanley discovered, there are mental tricks that enable you to conserve willpower for those moments when it’s indispensable. Paradoxically, these techniques require willpower to implement, but in the long run they leave you less depleted for those moments when it takes a strong core to survive.

Precommitment: The Ties That Bind

But the act of writing it was part of a strategy to conserve willpower that he used over and over with great success: precommitment.

The essence of this strategy is to lock yourself into a virtuous path.

What began as a precommitment turned into something permanent and more valuable: a habit.

The Brain on Autopilot

Orderly habits like shaving can actually improve self-control in the long run by triggering automatic mental processes that don’t require much energy.

The clear implication was that the best advice for young writers and aspiring professors is: Write every day. Use your self-control to form a daily habit, and you’ll produce more with less effort in the long run.

Higher order thoughts

Focus on higher order thoughts.

“Why” questions push the mind up to higher levels of thinking and a focus on the future.

“How”questions bring the mind down to low levels of thinking and a focus on the present.

Self-control improved among people who were encouraged to think in high-level terms.

From Self-esteem to Narcissism

There seem to be only two clearly demonstrated benefits of high self-esteem, according to the review panel:

  1. It increases initiative, probably because it lends confidence. People with high self-esteem are more willing to act on their beliefs.
  2. It feels good. High self-esteem seems to operate like a bank of positive emotions.

Exceptional Asians

Forget about self-esteem. Work on self-control.

How do you calmly, consistently discipline the children? Start with setting goals and standards.

Rules for Babies and Vampires

Instead of immediately feeding the crying child, the mother lets the child know that the signal has been received but then waits for her or him to quiet down before offering the breast or the bottle.

Just remember that if you want to instill self-control, you need to be consistent in whatever rewards you give.

Playing to Win

To control your weight, you need the discipline to follow these three rules:

  1. Never go on a diet.
  2. Never vow to give up chocolate or any other food.
  3. Whether you’re judging yourself or judging others, never equate being overweight with having weak willpower.

Let Me Count the Weighs (and the Calories)

The more carefully and frequently you monitor yourself, the better you’ll control yourself.

Never Say Never

To promise not to do a thing is the surest way in the world to make a body want to go and do that very thing.

Tell yourself you’ll pleasure yourself later.

Know Your Limits

Choosing what to have for dinner, where to go on vacation, whom to hire, how much to spend—these all take willpower. Even hypothetical decisions deplete energy.

What matters is the exertion, not the outcome. If you struggle with temptation and then give in, you’re still depleted because you struggled. Giving in does not replenish the willpower you have already expended. All it does is save you from expending any more.

Watch for Symptoms

There’s no obvious “feeling” of depletion. Hence you need to watch yourself for subtle, easily misinterpreted signs.

Do things seem to bother you more than they should? Has the volume somehow been turned up on your life so that things are felt more strongly than usual?

Beware the Planning Fallacy (Underestimating time required)

One way to avoid the planning fallacy is to force yourself to think about your past experience.

If you only get goals one and two done, but not three, that’s fine, but you can’t go off working on other goals until you’ve done the top three.

Don’t Forget the Basics (like Changing Your Socks)

People exert less self-control after seeing a messy desk than after seeing a clean desk.

To break a really entrenched bad habit like smoking, do it on vacation, when you’re far away from the people and places and events you associate with cigarettes.

The Power of Positive Procrastination

This “I’ll have it later” trick can work for other temptations.

Write a to-do list for the week and put these tasks below your top priority.

The Nothing Alternative (and Other Tricks of Offense)

Write or nothing. If I can’t write, I will do nothing.

Reward Often

When you set a goal, set a reward for reaching it.