Self control. Willpower. I Need Me Some of That!

by Millionaire Mommy Next Door on October 7, 2009

in Success Principles

Every day, usually when I’m in the shower, my brain whirls with blog topics. I dry off, get dressed, dash towards my computer to type the post that burns to get out of my mind and onto paper.

Tweeeet! Oh, a Mention on TweetDeck? Check it out. “Thanks for the RT”, I quickly type back. Hmm, wait, what’s this tweet, the one that says click here for the very best article on the science of happiness? Maybe it’ll be a perfect reference for the post I’m writing today. I devour the article, knowing that I’m headed down the wrong path.

Two minutes later, I return to stare at my blank page. I enter the title and post category.

“Mom, I need you!” my daughter whines.

“Where’s your dad? I’m working right now, honey.” Ouch, momma guilt pangs. I remind myself, it’s okay, Dad has it covered. He can play “just pretend I’m the momma and you are the baby” games with Juniorette just as good as I can.

I return to my page. Crap. What was that brilliant idea? The one I just had to share with the world? Oh yeah, something about how creating automatic money systems helps….

Ring, ring, ring.

I peek at the caller ID. It’s my sister. I’m not answering. I can call her back when I’m done.

“Jen, your sis is on the phone,” my husband announces as he brings the secondary phone unit to me in my in-home office. He’s already connected the call.

“Hey sis, what’s up? Can it wait for about an hour? I’m writing.”

I take three deep breaths, mutter to myself, and return my rolling eyeballs back to the page. Where was I? I’ve forgotten. While mulling over what I forgot, I do a quick check of my email. Ten minutes later, I return to stare at my blank page. I peck out a couple of awkward paragraphs. This doesn’t sound nearly as brilliant as it did in my head, when I was lather-rinse-repeating in the shower. I can’t post this crap!

I call it a morning. Tomorrow, I’ll have another idea. Tomorrow, I’ll try to sneak out of the shower and into my office unnoticed. In the meantime, I try to forget my lack of self-control by distracting myself. I spend the next hour mindlessly surfing the web.

What happened to my willpower? I was incredibly motivated to write when I started, but I couldn’t power through the task. Why couldn’t I stick to it? I think I found my answer:

Studies indicate that self-control comes in limited quantities that must be replenished.

There are three main theories about how self-control operates, according to Baumeister. One theory suggests that self-control depends on an energy or strength like “willpower,” while a second theory considers self-control as a skill to be learned. Yet another theory views self-control as a thought process, where individuals process their different behavioral options and choose a course of action after analyzing their situation.

To test these theories, Baumeister and colleagues designed a series of studies to determine whether self-control could be depleted, which would indicate that it was more like willpower than a skill or thought process.

For one experiment, individuals were asked to stifle or exaggerate their emotions while watching a disturbing video. Afterward, their physical stamina was tested with a handgrip device. In another study, hungry participants were tempted with chocolate and freshly baked cookies before working on difficult geometric puzzles. In all cases, participants who exercised self-control were less able to complete the second task.

“Resisting temptation consumed an important resource, which was then less available to help the person persist in the face of failure,” Baumeister explains.

He suggests that sleep may be one way that individuals can replenish self-control.

“Most forms of self-regulation failure escalate over the course of the day, becoming more likely and more frequent the longer the person has been deprived of sleep,” according to Baumeister, who notes that positive emotional experience may also help replace expended self-control energy.

Roy Baumeister, Ph.D.

It’s 4:30PM as I write this post. The phones are unplugged. My web browser is closed. The house is completely still. Daddy and Juniorette are playing at the park together.

And I just woke from a blessed nap.

755 words so far and I’m having a blast! The words are flowing and I haven’t used the delete key or checked on my email. I am focused, powering through this post.

What do I hope you take away from my experience?

That success comes easier when you eliminate temptations and reduce the need for willpower!

Do you want to stop buying things you don’t need? Then stay out of the mall.

Do you want to build your savings or retirement account? Then keep the money out of your hands. Schedule an automatic monthly transfer from your checking account to your savings account every payday.

Do you want to eat a healthier diet or lose weight? Then bag up your processed food and drop it off at your local food bank. When you grocery shop, avoid the boxed-food aisles. Don’t carry junk food through your door and put it into your pantry.

Do you have an important task to complete? Then tackle it first thing in the morning when you are rested and before you’ve used up your limited daily supply of self-control. Or take a nap like I did and start afresh.

I hear my family at the door and I am done. I will now celebrate this small victory! And I hit the Publish button…

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather October 8, 2009 at 7:05 am

I really like the ‘Do it first thing in the morning’ suggestion. My husband is SO good at this… me not so much. I need to stay OFF the computer first thing and get IMPORTANT things done!!! Great post… Thank you!
Heather

Reply

Little House October 8, 2009 at 8:53 am

I agree that a quiet house equals sticking to something and getting it done, so if this is will power or self control, I guess I need some too! What I find, especially when I have a ‘brilliant’ idea for a post, or something else, is that I have to type or write down my idea right away. Even if I don’t have time to type out the whole article, if I can at least get the idea down, then I’m good to go when I look at it later.

I guess if I apply this to other areas, like when I’m thinking I need to shove some money into my savings account, if I do it right then and there, I’ll be looking good.

thanks for the post-
Little House

Reply

Nick Pfennigwerth October 8, 2009 at 9:16 am

I carry a little note pad around with me and whenever I get an idea I write the idea, the specific purpose, and my most wanted response.

This way, when I go to sit down and work, I don’t lose a step because my mind already knows and researched the idea by knowing the specific purpose and most wanted response that I wrote earlier.

Nick

Reply

Tracey October 8, 2009 at 12:49 pm

With diet, I find that some menu-planning really helps. Take a Sunday afternoon (or whenever you’ve got time), do your grocery shopping, and make some healthy meals and snacks. If you can’t do that, plan out the dishes you want to cook during the week. I tend to eat out when I haven’t planned the week ahead.

Reply

SavingDiva October 8, 2009 at 2:36 pm

Excellent post! I definitely need to find a way to be focused for longer…

Reply

swissmexms October 8, 2009 at 3:55 pm

Synchronicity! This is a topic in my life that I am addressing right now, I want to start my own business in art. So, the first thing I do each morning is paint. I have to. No son, no husband, not even a beautiful shower, just the paintbrush, paints , and I.
I like the fact that you point out that it is imperative to get rid of the distraction for any goal. Beautiful expamples. I also didn’t realize about the sleep factor. Another very important point. I will continue to utilize all three suggestions. Thank you again!

Reply

Mrs. Accountability October 11, 2009 at 9:39 pm

I have never heard about self-control being something that needs to be replenished but it makes a lot of sense. I can totally relate to the distractions, too. I have to refocus a lot at my “day” job due to lots of interruptions. It is actually easier when I work from home, but my employer frowns on working from home. Great ideas to replenish, I do the nap one when possible, it does help a lot. I am sometimes sitting here so tired, can’t get a thing done, and I know it doesn’t help to try harder, just go lay down for an hour or so and I’ll have more energy when I get up. I just hate losing the time…

Reply

Tom October 16, 2009 at 9:53 pm

This is a great post! It has already changed my life — big time! Surely I exaggerate? Not on your life.

I have a lengthy and time-consuming morning routine — consisting of brushing teeth, glass of lemon juice, one or two pieces of fruit, walk, meditation, tea, shower and dress, and finally breakfast. After all this, I don’t feel much like getting down to work. But after reading this article, all that changed.

The next morning I went right to work and got more done in the next hour or two than I usually do all day! Beyond that, a momentum kicked in and I was in work mode all day, whereas usually I am in play mode, begrudging the work I had to do. Being so productive led to my feeling terrific all day. Do it first thing in the morning — what a simple and revolutionary idea! Thanks for the great article.

Tom

Reply

Steve Lee November 19, 2009 at 10:23 am

I like how you give an example of what happens to people who work from home rather than just talking about it. By studying the example, I can understand more by comparing that to my own habits.

What you say about will power is very true. If you get rid of the temptation then you don’t have to fight to get will power. So simple but so profoundly effective!

Reply

anna November 28, 2009 at 11:23 am

To all the great advice, I’d also add this: find ways to boost your motivation throughout the day. If you’re effective at this, even some distraction won’t kick you off the track you should stay on. Find ways to relate the small things you have to do to something you’d like to do.

As a 1st year law student, I study a lot. Even without outside distractions, my mind welcomes every break it can come up with (“should I compare some prices online now? I’ll definitely forget later. It’s my aunt’s birthday – I really need to email her before I forget”). I have to come up with small mantras I can use throughout the day to stay focused, especially if what I’m doing is not my favorite thing. For example, “if I finish this writing assignment now, and it’s good, then I won’t have to create a whole new writing sample when I’ll be applying for jobs,” or, “if I get this done in the next 2 hours, and accomplish A, B, C within the next 3 days, I won’t even think of work on Saturday and will go hiking instead.”

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: