Some days I live up to everything I promised myself in the morning. I eat proper meals and healthy snacks throughout the whole day. After work I cycle to the gym and kill my work out like a mad woman. And when I go for drinks with my friends later that night, I don’t lose self-control, but crawl into bed at a civilized time.
But the following day could be total disaster. I’ll bury my head in a pint of Ben&Jerry’s, make up excuses to skip my work out, and drink so much that I’d be hungover as shit the next morning. I recently watched the presentation of Professor Roy Baumeister, a respected social psychologist specializing in self-control and self -regulation. I discovered that the behavior I just described has everything to do with self-control and willpower.
Willpower is the drive behind self-control
What does self-control and willpower mean exactly? It’s the capacity to change yourself based on some standard or idea you consider as good or beneficial in the long run. And willpower is the energy behind self-control.
Self-control is limited
It seems that people who have these qualities straight are more successful in work or school and have longer lasting and happier relationships. This fact might not be a revelation to most of us. On the contrary, it intuitively makes sense. But the following was a real eye opener to me: our capacity for self-control is limited. If you expand some of it, you’ll have less (at least for a while). Even if your next task or goal doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the previous one. The next desire that comes along, you are more likely to give into it.
Let’s take another look a my situation. It’s possible that I skip my work out and down a whole pint of Ben&Jerry’s instead, because the day before I successfully resisted these temptations. In other words: I used up my willpower
Your willpower is like a muscle:
- It gets tired after exertion
- Conserving energy
- Regular exercise increases strength
Don’t do it all at once
You have one stack of will power. If you put it into one thing it may not be available for others. For example, if you have several important resolutions for the next year, you should do them in sequence. Each resolution is usually a way to change yourself so it takes self-control and will power. If you have several of these at once and if you try to change your life in four different ways you’ll most likely fail. Each time you put energy in one of them, you are taking away the energy to do the others. So it’s best to pick one, succeed at it and move on to the other one. Succeeding at the first resolution will actually strengthen your muscle and give you a greater capacity to succeed at the next one.
The importance of cheat- and rest days
After watching the presentation of Professor Baumeister I see cheat- and rest days (a day without a work out) in a different light. I realize now that rest days are not only a way to allow my body to recover, it’s also a beneficial to my mind and thus my willpower. Scheduling a mandatory break from training will help you get excited break a sweat the next day. The same goes for cheat days. If I resist every single French fry or Oreo that comes my way, my willpower will crack eventually. But if I give into the temptation occasionally, I take good care of my willpower and self-control muscle. 🙂