The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in he book “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Strength” by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney. It is important to reiterate that your supply of willpower is limited, and you use this same resource for many different things. Throughout the day you do many things that deplete your willpower of which you are likely unaware. One activity that definitely depletes willpower is making decisions. Practically nobody is aware of just how tiring it is to decide. Even apparently simple decisions such as choosing what to have for dinner depletes willpower.. But deciding where to go on vacation, whom to hire, or where to look for a new job, which purchases to make and how much to spend are all decisions that deplete willpower.
Also remember that what matters is the exertion and not the outcome. If you struggle with temptation and then give in, you have depleted your willpower regardless of the result. You even use up willpower when you partake in indulgences that don’t appeal to you. Forcing yourself to do something you don’t really want to do at the moment, be it chugging tequila, having sex, or smoking a cigar, depletes your willpower.
Unfortunately there is no obvious “feeling” of depletion, so you need to watch yourself for subtle, easily misinterpreted signs. For example: Do things seem to bother you more than they should? Has the volume somehow been turned up on your life so that things are felt more strongly than usual? Is it suddenly hard to make up your mind about even simple things? Are you more than usually reluctant to make a decision to exert yourself mentally or physically? When you notice these feelings, then review the last few hours and see if it seems likely likely that you have depleted your will power?
Although your supply of willpower is limited, it is obvious it can be replenished. Obviously, a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast should restore your willpower. But during the day pleasant down time should also do some replenishing. There is another activity that HM strongly recommends, and that is meditation. HM finds meditation most definitely to be restorative. It is unfortunately that Baumeister and Tierney do not have meditation play a more central role. It is mentioned that meditation rituals are a “kind of anaerobic workout for self control.” And that “Meditation activates the same brain centers used for self-regulation.” HM understand why they do not emphasize meditation. They are conscientious researchers who want controlled research on the topic. Although HM understands why they do not emphasize meditation, he criticizes their not conducting obvious research on the topic. HM can, at least, provide his recommendation on the basis of his personal experience. And that is that, perhaps apart from a good sound night’s sleep, meditation is the most restorative activity. A short period, a half hour or less, of effective meditation has remarkable restorative powers. (Enter “relaxation response” into the search block of the healthy memory blog to find relevant posts. Additional posts can be found by entering “meditation” or “mindfulness”)
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