How many of your problems would be solved if you just had more willpower? You’d have the body of your dreams, you’d finish that project you’ve been putting off for years, you’d spend far less time watching cat videos. Willpower is the most essential tool there is in achieving any of our goals
Here, Art of Manliness bings us some tips for strengthening our willpower. Like most things, willpower is a tool that is strengthened by using it. So get ready to put he ice-cream back in the freezer.
While there are many ways to conserve your willpower, there’s really just one way to strengthen it.
By working on any goal or habit that exercises your self-control.
Remember when we talked about how willpower is like a muscle, and that just like a muscle, you have to exhaust it in the short-term in order to build its strength in the long-term? When you work to change a habit, you deplete your willpower in the struggle, but over time, the strength of your willpower muscle increases from these exercises, making you better able to take on future tasks.
Very little makes me happier than when somebody looks at something from an angle that has never occurred to me before, which is exactly what The School Of Life does in this video on how to remain calm with people.
He presents our tendency to feel victimised when people inconvenience us in some way as a form of self-hatred, which I must say is quite a compelling argument:
Part of the reason why jump so readily to dark conclusions, and see plots to insult and harm us, os a rather poignant psychological phenomenon; self-hatred.
The less we like ourselves, the more we appear in our own eyes as really rather plausible targets for mockery and harm. Why would a drill have started up outside just as we were settling down to work? Why did the email not arrive even though we’ll have to be in a meeting very soon? Why would the phone operator be taking so long to find our details? Because there is, logically enough, a plot against us.
Because we’re appropriate targets for these kinds of things. Because we’re the sort of people against whom disruptive drilling is legitimately likely to be directed. It’s what we deserve.
I’m sure I’ll be a much calmer person if I just bear in mind how much everybody loves me…
It feels as if anxiety has become the default state of our society, yet it’s not clear why. Our lives are safer, more comfortable and more stable than any time in history. Almost all of us have access to food, clean water, and shelter, and ironically, those who don’t, often seem less anxious than those who do.
Perhaps that’s why I was so fascinated by this article got me thinking that maybe anxiety is a symptom of our distractedness. With our senses bombarded by 24 hour distractions, it wouldn’t be surprising if our brains simply had less available bandwidth to process the stresses and strains of life:
When the brain is spinning out one horrifying outcome after another, it does not have enough space to clearly perceive the world around us as it is in this moment. If a big energy is trying to move through a constricted space it can give us the feeling that we are bouncing off the walls, and our thoughts ricochet inside our heads creating a frenzy that is a danger of its own.
So distracted are we by thoughts of what might happen, we cannot appreciate the circumstances here and now. We cannot move through the world in a constant state of self-generated fear.
We could all use a little help achieving our goals from time to time, even if that help comes from the wisdom of a man born almost 2000 years ago. No, not that man. I’m talking about Epictetus, one of the most renowned Stoics in history:
The great stoic Epictetus put forth his “dichotomy of control” illustrating that the world is divided into things that are in our control (thoughts, emotions, and actions) and things that are out of our control (possessions, looks, or privilege).
If you carefully differentiate the things that are in your control from the things that are not, you influence the things that are in your control to make your life the way you visualize it. You also stop worrying about things that are not under your control. You come to realize how pointless it is and that saves you a great deal of time and energy.
In can be tough to say no. Not only can we end up feeling guilty for refusing, but we are left wondering if we missed out. It’s tempting to say “yes” to every opportunity just in case it’s the best use of our time. But it rarely, if ever, works out this way. In fact, as James Clear points out, the opposite is usually true.
The words “yes” and “no” get used in comparison to each other so often that it feels like they carry equal weight in conversation. In reality, they are not just opposite in meaning, but of entirely different magnitudes in commitment.
When you say no, you are only saying no to one option. When you say yes, you are saying no to every other option.
I like how the economist Tim Harford put it, “Every time we say yes to a request, we are also saying no to anything else we might accomplish with the time.” Once you have committed to something, you have already decided how that future block of time will be spent.
We’re all searching for happiness. For the perfect job or partner or trinket which will complete us. But even if we get it, the happiness we hoped for is, at best, short-lived. So why not start with the happiness first? What if being happy is what creates success?
If we genuinely want to be happy, we have to create it. Why? Because we can’t wait around for a specific event, date, or object to come into our lives. If it doesn’t happen, our happiness will never occur. More importantly, studies continue to show this concept is backward, as happiness fuels long-term success and fulfillment, not the other way around.
Stress — like everything really — is not simply a psychological problem. The body plays a big part in our experience, and, it turns out, our capacity to deal with it. From mindful.org:
A new study in the journal Biological Psychology suggests that people with better body awareness tend to feel less stressed. That’s no surprise, perhaps, if you’ve already been practicing mindfulness, but may seem odd otherwise. Stress leads to a physiological response, such as increased heart rate or sweating.
Participants who reported themselves less overwhelmed by a challenge also noticed their physical state sooner that others—with brain scans suggesting they were able to reign in anxiety before it escalated.
To say “it’s easy to overlook the fact that our perception isn’t the same as reality,” is perhaps the greatest understatement of all time. It’s almost impossible not to overlook it. Not overlooking it takes dedicated effort which still only allows us to overlook it for brief periods.
Everything we experience, from sounds, to smells, to the words on this screen, even the feeling that we are a single cohesive self, is a construction of the mind. An attempt to make sense of an influx of various vibrations and energy frequencies. This article by Anil Seth captures the idea with an eloquence I’ve not seen before:
…imagine being a brain. There you are, locked inside the bony vault of the skull, trying to figure out what’s out there in the world. There’s no light in the skull; there’s no sound either. It’s completely dark and it’s utterly silent. Your eyes and your ears just deliver streams of electrical signals to the brain.
These signals don’t come with labels attached – “I’m from a cat! I’m from a coffee cup!” – they are just electrical signals, signals which do not themselves have any shape, color, or sound. Therefore, in order to figure out what’s out there in the world, the brain has to combine these ambiguous sensory signals with some prior “expectations” or “predictions” about the way the world is. And that’s what we perceive – the brain’s “best guess” of the causes of its sensory signals.
It’s easy to feel that if you’re not doing 10 things at once, you’re not doing enough. We’ve created a world for ourselves where there’s always something on our to-do list, and failure to achieve any one of them feels like failing at life. Then, because your attention is scattered, you end up doing each task half as well as you could have, which leaves you feeling even further behind.
But this isn’t just a question of quality of performance, it’s about quality of life. Life is better, everything is better when we’re present. When we’re focused wholeheartedly on the thing we’re doing right now. Here’s Leo Babauta’s take on the subject:
Every now and then, I have to remind myself to do one thing at a time.
The tendency to try to do a whole bunch of things seems to be a natural result of my wanting to get everything done as soon as I can. Many browser tabs open, switching between one thing and the next, endlessly, endlessly.
No wonder I can never focus on anything!
Then I remember to do one thing at a time, and it’s like coming home.