Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength – A Critical Book to Help You Realize Your Business and Personal Success

In their excellent book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney discuss the importance of willpower in ensuring that you get done what you need to get done and thus achieve your goals. Please use my detailed notes on the book as a quick summary. Then, go out and buy this book or borrow it from your library. It will be worth it.

Fundamentals of Willpower

  • Willpower and self-control are vital strengths and keys to success in life.
    • Ultimately, self-control lets you relax because it removes stress and enables you to conserve willpower for the important challenges.
    • People with strong willpower both get more done and have more happiness and less stress
  • Willpower is like a muscle
    • You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it.
    • You use the same stock of willpower for all manner of tasks.
      • This means that (in most cases) when you are tired, your willpower is weak
  • Uses of willpower
    • Control of thoughts
    • Control of emotions
    • Impulse control
    • Performance control
      • Focusing your energy on the task at hand
      • Finding the right combination of speed and accuracy
      • Managing time
      • Persevering when you feel like quitting.
  • Key conclusion from research on willpower
    • Focus on one project at a time.
    • For resolutions, make one resolution and stick to it. When we try to change two things at a time, we are over-estimating our willpower.
  • Making decisions require willpower
    • It takes willpower to make decisions, and so the depleted state makes people look for ways to postpone or evade decisions.
    • Part of the resistance against making decisions comes from the fear of giving up options. This reluctance to give up options becomes more pronounced when willpower is low.
    • Beware of making binding decisions when your energy is down, because you’ll tend to favor options with short-terms gains and delayed costs.

How to Strengthen Willpower and Self-Control

  • The first step in self-control is to set a clear goal
    • Better a proximate goal (short term objective)
      • “Getting your brain wired into little goals and achieving them, helps you achieve the bigger things you shouldn’t be able to do.” David Blaine (Magician and Endurance Artist)
    • Rather than a distal goal (long term objective)
    • In a research study, the group with the proximal goals outperformed everyone
    • Monitor and measure achievement towards that goal
    • Reward often
  • But, know the limits of willpower; do not try to do too much
    • Keep the goals modest
    • Change (if possible) one thing at a time
  • Make agreements with yourself and then keep them
    • Do what you promise when you promise to do it. Be faithful to your own goals.
    • “…the importance of the agreements you make with yourself. When you make an agreement and you don’t keep it, you undermine your own self-trust. You can fool everybody but yourself, and you’re going to pay for that, so you should be aware of the agreements you make.” David Allen (productivity expert)
  • Strengthen your willpower muscle
    • Concentrate on changing a habitual behavior (use the opposite hand to eat, have a better posture, etc.)
    • Engage in higher level thinking.
    • Take care of yourself – get exercise, get rest, be neat, etc.
  • Create the right habits
    • It takes willpower to establish patterns of healthy behavior, but once the habits are established, life can proceed smoothly.
    • Through the creation of right habits, etc., people with strong self-control spent less time resisting desires than other people did. They’re beset by fewer temptations and inner conflicts. They’re better at arranging their lives so that they avoid problem situations.
  • Other steps to resist temptations
    • Keep temptations out of sight. We can ignore temptations when they’re not immediately available, but once they’re right in front of us we lose perspective and forget our distant goals.
    • When confronted with other temptations, do not say “never”, say “I can have this latter.” This “positive procrastination” is a great way to resist temptation.
  • Create a pre-commitment
    • If necessary, make it public so that you would lose face if you do not meet the commitment
  • Avoid procrastination
    • Do not keep putting it off.
    • “The wise man does at once what the fool does finally.” Machiavelli
  • The “Nothing” Alternative
    • Set up a time limit and force yourself to work on what you need to work on during that time or nothing else. No other web surfing, no E-Mail, no other reading, no walks, no nothing.
    • “Write or nothing. Two very simple rules: A. You don’t have to write. B. You can’t do anything else. The rest comes of itself.” Raymond Chandler
    • “If I can’t do xxxx, then I will do nothing.”

About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
This entry was posted in Perform / Execution, Personal Success and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength – A Critical Book to Help You Realize Your Business and Personal Success

  1. Pingback: The 4 Innate Qualities of Great Employees | David M. Shedd – Move Your Company Forward

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