This post is based largely on the book “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Strength” by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney. Willpower is constrained by the availability of energy sources. One of these is glucose, which is burned up in activities. The other is mental energy. Exerting willpower deletes this source, irrespective of the reason for needing willpower. Consequently strategies are required for utilizing this resource to best advantage. One strategy is to pick our battles. Although we can’t control or predict the stresses that come into our lives, we can use the calm periods or peaceful moments to plan an offense such as starting an exercise program, learning a new skill, quitting smoking, reducing drinking, making one or two lasting changes to a diet. These are all best done during times of relatively low demand, when we can allocate much of our will power to the task. And we would want to address this tasks individually, one at a time. Aiming for huge and quick transformations will backfire if they seem impossible. So only address the possible.
The authors counsel us when budgeting our time, not to give drudgery more than its necessary share. They tell us to remember Parkinson’s Law: Work expands to fill the time available for its completion. We need to set firm time limits for tedious tasks. If it is a large task it might need to be addressed on different dates. Only try to do what is realistic.
To-do-lists are good for organizing time and for making sure certain tasks are completed by a certain time. The authors realize that some readers might not feel like drawing one up because this sounds dreary and off-putting. So they suggest of thinking of it as a to-don’t list. This is a list of things that we don’t have to worry about once we write them down. Making a specific plan mollifies our unconscious minds. We need to plan the specific next step to take; what to do, whom to contact, how to do it (in person? by phone? by e-mail?)If we can also plan specifically when and where to do it, so much the better, but that’s not essential. Our unconscious mind can relax as long as we’ve decided what to do and put it on the list.
Whenever we set a goal, we need to be aware of the planning fallacy. This affects everyone from young students to experienced executives (who continue to fall prey to this fallacy). This fallacy has been extensively documented and replicated. An example provided in the book is one by psychologist Roger Bueller and his colleagues. They asked collegeseniors working on their honors theses to predict when they would probably finish, along with best-case and worst-case scenarios. On average, the students predicted it would take thirty-four days to finish, but in fact it took them fifty-six days. Not even half the students finished by they worst-case predicted date.
The authors note that self-control will be most effective if we take basic care of our bodies, starting with diet and sleep. We need to get enough healthy food on a regular basis so that our mind has adequate energy. And it is good to begin the day with a healthy breakfast. The authors write that sleep is probably even more important than food: The more researchers study sleep deprivation the more nasty effects they keep discovering. Coffee in the morning is not an adequate substitute for sleeping until our bodies wake up on their own because it has gotten enough rest. They write,”The old advice that things will seem better in the morning has nothing to do with daylight, and everything to do with depletion. A rested will is a stronger will.”
It seems that most schedules for school and work are oblivious of the importance of adequate sleep and breakfast. This forces people to shortchange themselves on sleep and breakfast. In turn, these shortages result in inferior performance in both school and work. Seriously attention needs to be paid to this problem.
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