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…