Posts Tagged ‘Robert Benchley’

Additional Willpower Strategies

April 19, 2017

This post is based largely on the book “Willpower:  Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength” by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.  The power of positive procrastination is another source of willpower.  The “I’ll have it later” trick is an example of positive procrastination.  At least you’re delaying the temptation.  And you might eventually forget about the temptation completely.

Another strategy is the nothing alternative courtesy of Raymond Chandler.  Chandler’s system for writing detective stories was to set aside at least four hours a day for his job, writing.  He did this methodically every day.  In the morning he would wait for inspiration.  When it came, he wrote.  If it didn’t come he would do nothing the entire four hours.  The authors write that the nothing alternative is a marvelously simple tool against procrastination for just about any kind of task.  You just might become bored doing nothing and start doing the desired task.  They key is not to do something else unless you strategically arrange the task as Robert Benchley did (see the first blog in this series, “Willpower:  Discovering the Greatest Human Strength).

The authors call the nothing alternative an offensive strategy.  Offensive strategies for not spending money would be to never carry more cash than you intend to spend, and to never carry a credit card unless it was for a predetermined purchase.  Precommitment is the ultimate offensive weapon.  Buy junk food in small packages or keep them out of the kitchen altogether.  Plan meals by the week, rather than on the spur of the moment.  Set up automatic payroll deductions, IRAs, and 401k plans.

Keeping track is another strategy .  Monitoring is crucial for any kind of plan you make—and it can even work if you don’t have a plan at all.  Weighing yourself every day or keeping a food diary can help you lose weight, just as tracking your purchases can help you spend less.  You can use technology to assist you in keeping track.

An especially important strategy is to reward often.  When you set a goal, set a reward for reaching it.  The authors write that we should steadily award ourselves for successes along the way.  Look for ways to reward yourself along the way to success prior to the big reward when the goal is reached.


Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

April 13, 2017

The  immediately preceding post, Irresistible described the increasing addictive dangers of technology.  This and the immediately following posts will outline the solution.  That solution is willpower, and is covered in detail in a book with the title of this post  Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.   In the concluding chapter of this book they write that they’re still bullish on the future of self-control, at both the personal and social levels.  And they concede that temptations are getting more sophisticated, but so are the tools for resisting them.

Charles Darwin wrote in “The Descent of Man,” “The highest possible state in moral culture is when we recognize that we ought to control our thoughts.  Most personal problems, both personal and social, center on the failure of self-control:  compulsive spending and borrowing, impulsive violence, underachievement in school, procrastination at work, alcohol and drug abuse, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, chronic anxiety, explosive anger.  Poor self-control correlates with practically every kind of individual trauma: losing friends, being fired, getting divorced, and ending up in prisons.  It contributed to the epidemic of risky loans and investments that devastated the financial system.  Ultimately, self-control let’s you relax because it removes stress and enables you to conserve willpower for the important challenges.

There are two important facts to understand about willpower.  There is a biological constraint on willpower.  When glucose levels are low, willpower declines.  And there is an additional constraint on willpower that is psychological.   There is a limited supply of willpower, and exercising willpower depletes this limited supply.  We use the same resource for doing different things.  This is why it is pointless to have many New Year’s Eve resolutions.  The fewer you have, the less likely any of them will be successful.  In previous healthy memory posts the recommendation was to have, at most, two resolutions.  One should be fairly easy, so at least there will be one victory, and the other should be challenging so that the success of that resolution would be grounds for cheering.  But do them in succession, say easy first, then difficult, rather than trying to do them both at the same time.

Many strategies and techniques for effectively using one’s willpower that are based on sound research are presented in the book.  One of them is positive procrastination.  For example, you might want to  have some tasty treat, but you tell yourself to procrastinate, to have it sometime later.  There is also a humorous example provided by  Robert Benchley, my favorite humorist.  In one of his essays he writes that he is often asked how he manages to accomplish so much work, given that he appears to be so dissipated.  He explained how he could summon the discipline to read a scientific article about tropical fish, build a bookshelf, arrange books on said shelf, and write an answer to a friend’s letter that had been sitting in a pile on his desk for twenty years.  All he had to do was to draw up a to-do list for the week and put these tasks above his top priority—his job of writing an article.  He wrote, “The secret of my incredible energy and efficiency in getting work done is a simple one.  The psychological principal  is this:  anyone can do any amount of work, provided that it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.”  I encourage readers to look up Robert Benchley on the Wikipedia.  Much of his work is still available on

The following is from the concluding chapter of Willpower.  “People with stronger willpower are more altruistic.  “They’re more likely to donate to charity, to do volunteer work, and to offer their own homes as shelter to someone with no place to go.  Willpower evolved because it was crucial for our ancestors to get along with the rest of the clan, and it’s still serving that purpose today.  Inner discipline still leads to outer kindness.”

You are strongly encouraged to read Willpower even though the following posts will be based on his book about this important topic, they can only scratch the surface.  Erick Clapton, Mary Karr, David Blaine, and Henry Morton Stanley. Should you not know Henry Morton Stanley, he is famous for finding a Scottish missionary in the wilds of Africa and saying, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”  He is a legendary figure in willpower.  He makes David Blaine look like a wuss.

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