Thursday, September 22, 2011
Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength
After three weeks of my children being in school, it's clear that my willpower has been depleted.
I know this because I have forgotten about some important things, despite the many reminders and writing them in my new, awesome planner. Because I yelled at all three of my children last night while we were working on homework. Because I have no motivation. Oh, and because I haven't been to the gym since the second day of school.
In the book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney, I learned that what we call willpower is not something I have in unlimited supply. In fact, every single thing for which I must use self-control depletes a little bit of that willpower until it's just plain gone. I read about study after study (and I must say, these authors have a way of making scientific studies entertaining--I loved reading them!) which discovered this fact. Which basically means that it's much easier to focus your willpower on one thing at a time. So go on a diet, get out of debt, or write a novel--just don't try to do all three at once because you're more likely to fail at all of them.
I've definitely noticed this in my life. New Year's Resolutions have made me so very angry when I can't seem to muster up the willpower to accomplish more than one of them. It always seemed that one rose to the top and the rest fell off, which I suppose is better than failing at all of them, but it still made me mad.
I was doing so well at the whole weight loss thing this past spring/summer until the opera started. Then, suddenly I was faced with memorizing difficult music and the focus of my willpower switched from making myself go to the gym every day and eating right and tracking my food to spending long hours sitting at the piano, going to rehearsals and eating all the licorice people kept leaving in the green room. I made a mediocre effort at my previous weight loss, then went on vacation and am now completely off of the wagon.
Since school started, my willpower has been entirely focused on making myself get out of bed at 6:00 every morning (which, for me, requires pretty much my daily supply and does not really bode well in the willpower department for the rest of the day), getting Bria to practice her violin for an hour before 7:00, making lunches, getting everyone looking presentable, and getting us all to the bus on time. I have found myself plopping in front of the computer as soon as I get back from the bus stop instead of going to the gym like I WANT to. I just can't find the wherewithal.
Or the willpower.
So, enough about me. Let's talk about this amazing book. Like I mentioned before, it's full of fascinating case studies regarding willpower and how it works in our brains. And then it gives practical advice for finding the willpower to do whatever it is you need to do.
There is also a great chapter on teaching our children self-control (aka "willpower"), which is excellent. Study after study has shown that willpower/self-control is the single best predictor of how successful a child will be in her adult life. It is something we need to be teaching our children, and we need to especially remember that self-esteem comes from self-control, not the other way around.
I was so appalled when, in the introduction, the authors mentioned that there are some scholars who would like to do away with "the outdated notions of free will and responsibility." Say WHAT? No wonder our society has so many problems! And nearly every one of those problems--debt, obesity, crime, divorce, etc.--can be traced back to the lack of self-control.
Excellent book. Please read it if you feel you have "weak willpower." You'll love it. And, even better, you'll learn how to strengthen that willpower muscle.
As for me? I think I'm going to try to get to the gym before I have to go to work this morning.
(How weefy does that sound? Just remember. My willpower is DEPLETED and I'm trying.)