There’s an interview with Will Smith that I really like where he talks about priorities, and how they can make life easier. He says,
“If you get your priorities straight, it’s really simple. [For example] either your family is first or your job is first. Just decide ahead of time. If you decide that your family is first, and you’re sitting at the Oscars and your daughter has a fever, and [even if] it’s 90 seconds before your award, you don’t have to make a decision of what you’re going to do, you already made the decision ahead of time… passion and emotion in the moment is always going to give you the wrong answer, so do the math ahead of time so it’s not an issue in the moment.”
My man Will is tapping into a key to more willpower. There is a crap load of research on something called decision fatigue.
Decision fatigue means “the more we are forced to make decisions, the more the quality of our decisions deteriorate.”
On top of making worse decisions, it can also zap our energy and willpower; leaving us at the end of the day with no energy, a family sized bag of Cheetos, and episodes of Family Guy we’ve already seen 7x.
Research by Willpower Genie & Stanford Psychologist Kelly McGonigal shows that the more decisions we make throughout the day, the more our willpower gets drained.
Even small decisions, like which pair of underwear you should rock or where to go for lunch drain your battery. This is why Barack Obama wears the same suit, only available in blue and grey, everyday. It’s why Stephen King writes at the same time everyday.
My least productive days often look like this:
“Should I have cup of coffee #17? Should I get the large popcorn at the movies? It’s only 25 cents more.. What type of beer do I order at the pub? I woke up at 5am today, but 8am yesterday. What time should I write? Which of the 14 books I’m currently reading should I read right now? Fuck it, I’ll just watch Netflix.”
Stressful life, I know. But the point is that all of these micro decisions we make throughout our days cause our willpower and energy to take a beating. Therefore, by the time 6pm comes around, we can’t help but Netflix and chill so hard.
To have more energy and willpower throughout our days, we need to figure out how to make less of these trivial decisions.
Here’s some tools to try:
Just like Will Smith said, decide what’s important to you ahead of time so you don’t have to deal with the emotions and passions of the moment. Since the decision has already been made, you don’t have to waste mental resources going back and forth on what to do.
If your #1 priority is your health, then choosing between the gym or going to the movies with a friend has already been decided. You’ve gotta go push that iron.
EXERCISE: Write down your top five priorities, in order. Good. Now practice actually acting living by those priorities. When two priorities come face to face which one did you choose? Did you succumb to the emotions of the moment, or did you follow your true intentions and priorities?
I constantly think about these two quotes:
“Do what others won’t now, so you can do what others cannot later.”
“Do what is hard now, and your life will be easy. But do what is easy now, and life will be hard.”
This is how habits work. It’s extremely difficult to break old habits and create new ones. But once you do, life becomes very easy.
When you were a kid you probably didn’t feel like brushing your teeth all of the time, but now that it’s an ingrained habit, you’re dating life is much easier then it could’ve been. I’m sure of it.
I love habit change because once we reprogram our brain’s bad habits with new success habits, then success comes on autopilot. That’s why I write about them so much (like here and here and here and here and you get the picture..)
This is about the closest thing there is to a magic pill. When you form good habits, they become ingrained in your brain, and take very little energy to keep going. Making success easier and easier.
Habits are the force field against draining willpower and tanking energy.
Sure, it’s difficult to get new habits up and running, but once they are our life becomes easy.
EXERCISE: What is the ONE success habit you’re going to practice for the next 90 days? Write it down, and put it somewhere you can see it constantly. The more new habits stay front-of-mind, the more we practice them, and the more we practice, the harder they stick.
There are three ways to do this:
1) Eliminate distractions. A Professor of Marketing at Stanford showed that people who are more distracted, have less willpower. Stop multitasking, texting and driving, and cooking bacon while writing. Focusing on one thing at a time will help keep that willpower battery on full blast.
2) Willpower is like a muscle – the more you work it, the stronger it gets. The more small willpower wins we get, the stronger our willpower muscle becomes.
It’s like lifting weights. When you push past your comfort zone with heavier weights, the muscle gets stronger. We need to stretch our willpower just a little bit, and the next time we face a willpower battle, we’ll find it’s a little bit stronger.
3) Rewrite your willpower script. Remember, your belief about willpower makes an impact on how much willpower you actually have in the tank. Crazy talk, I know.
Think you’re a badass who is mentally tough? You’ll persist longer than someone who believes they’re a big old softie.
EXERCISE: Try this writing exercise to rewrite your script.
Set a timer for 5 minutes, and write profusely about an example of how you showed strong willpower. How’d you fight thru the urge to procrastinate? When was there a time you pushed through when you wanted to give up? Was there a time when others were leaning on you to step up and you did?
When we use the tools above to put our decisions on autopilot, we will have more energy and willpower to do stuff that actually matters. What is your number on priority? Let me know in the comments below.