9 Facts You Never Knew About Willpower

Willpower is the capacity to overrule the unconscious desires of the body in order to make rational decisions, like choosing a paleo-compliant avocado over a slice of pizza.  No matter what your goal is (50 flags, 315 on the bench, 50 approaches a month, etc.) you’re going to need it. Willpower: Rediscovering Humanity’s Greatest Strength is a definitive, easy to read book that will bring you up to speed on the latest psychology of willpower.  Willpower operates like a kind of mental gasoline.  Making conscious decisions uses it up, and it doesn’t recharge fully until you get a good night’s rest.  Here are nine facts about willpower:

1. Monitoring progress improves willpower

Showing someone with poor financial self-control his Visa bill before he makes a purchase activates a region in his brain which is active in people who are successful at managing their finances, and quiet in those who cannot.  People who use Mint.com tend to spend less money than people who don’t.

2.  Glucose matters

Making decisions takes glucose.  The brain is the principal energy consumer in the body.  The ability to resist temptation is closely tied to glucose levels in the bloodstream.  In a state of low glucose, willpower energy becomes depleted.  This causes people to revert to the easiest option on a menu of possible choices: the status quo.

In an experiment with the Israeli equivalent of a parole board, the chances of the board granting parole to an inmate prior to lunch approached 20%.  After lunch, it approached 65%.  Keeping a prisoner in jail is the status quo, the easy decision in this example because it frees the board from considering the ramifications of freeing a potentially still-criminal individual into the general population.

3. The body sends warning signs when you’re about to make bad decisions

Willpower depletion can be tricky to self-diagnose, but there are signs: feeling emotions more strongly than usual, difficulty making up one’s mind, unusual laziness.  Decisions made in this state are almost always suboptimal.

4.  Postpone gratification

It can be nigh on impossible to resist temptation head on, but studies show that coming at it obliquely does help augment willpower.  When you’re at the squat rack, and your body is ready to give up, tell yourself you’ll go easier on the next lift.  Your feeling of accomplishment from a successful lift may just get you through all the others.

5.  Disorganization destroys willpower

When the brain has an unfinished task, the task occupies mental energy.  When there are a sufficient number of unfinished tasks (most professionals average 150 items on their to-do lists) mental energy is fragmented across these small jobs.  At that point, making strides on any of them becomes very difficult.  Developing an orderly, specific system for completing tasks is crucial.

6.  Making decisions tires out your brain

Making decisions with large numbers of options is willpower depleting. People who are depleted often show an irrational desire not to give up options.  This may explain some of the behavior of women who delay marriage.  In cities and towns where the dating pool is enormous, the possibility that she may settle for a lesser male increases.  So she avoids making the decision entirely, to her own detriment.  This may also have some relevance to game.  Being at a bar with a large number of other men (even if there is a comparable or greater number of women) probably impedes notch acquisition.

7.  Looking at porn is bad for discipline in other areas

Hot women change neurological activity in men’s brains.  “Men who saw photos of hot women shifted toward getting an immediate reward instead of waiting for a larger payoff in the future. Apparently, the sight of an attractive woman makes men want cash right away.”  Looking at porn destroys willpower.

8.  Seeing your reflection enhances willpower

“Whenever people focused on themselves, they seemed to compare what they saw with some sort of idea of what they should be like.”  Putting a mirror on the desk, or in the kitchen, helps remind the mind of you of your self-ideal, and stop behavior that might hold back your goals.  It’s a cheap and easy reality check.

9.  Your friends can be major willpower assets

Making a commitment to a friend (referee) strengthens willpower.  So do financial penalties.  A website called stickk.com allows users to pick any goal they want and choose a penalty when they fail to reach it.  Penalties can include things like a donation to a cause a user hates or shame emails sent to family members.  “People who draw up a contract without a financial penalty or a referee succeed only 35 percent of the time, whereas the ones with a penalty and a referee succeed nearly 80 percent of the time.”

 Read More: How To Change Your Bad Habits

24 thoughts on “9 Facts You Never Knew About Willpower”

  1. The body sends warning signs when you are about to make bad decisions.
    I believe Dre said “I’m your motherf*cking conscience.”

      1. Funny thing about number 4. If I’m doing reps at the gym or at home (or just going for a run) if I count down from 20 (or whatever) it always gets tiring by the 20th rep. But if I count in sets of 10 and always reset my number when I reach 10 I can do 30 or 40 reps easily.
        Same thing if you need to hang a shit badly and are almost home. If you say to yourself, “nearly there, nearly there,” you’ll practically crap yourself by the time you reach the toilet. But if you say, “10 more minutes, there’s probably a traffic jam,” it’ll be easier to hold on.

  2. I definitely need to quit the porn. I usually quit it for a month or two, and then once I start it using it again I’ll use it for a week or 2.

    1. That seems to be my relationship with the stuff too. I can breeze through a month or two barely thinking about it. The temptation seems too come from nowhere, very suddenly and all at once.
      I have had some success with taking a moment to look around at whats happening to me for “triggers”. I know I can’t always avoid the stresses that make me want to look, but the knowledge as to why its happening helps a great deal.

  3. Interesting, first time I’ve learned something new from the manosphere in a while.
    I do daily IF, and I can tell by my cravings when my glucose levels are down. I can still hold them all in check as I’m a stubborn bastard, but it’s literally 10 times tougher.

  4. On No. 2, make sure not to confuse this with sucrose, which is refined sugar. Yes, sucrose will up your glucose levels, but then you’ll crash, and this will affect your decision-making and will power.
    On No. 6, this is “decision fatigue.” Some good stuff out there on the Net on this subject, so important to read it. In short, “multitasking” is a bullshit myth and doesn’t exist. When you make too many decisions and don’t rest, your performance will suffer greatly. Never mind the chicks, YOU, as a man, have to keep this in mind, too.

    1. There are some people who can multitask without effort. Directors, for instance. I find I work better when I’m doing 2 or 3 tasks. When I’m just doing one thing I easily get bored. Guess it all comes down to brainpower. Like kids who are disruptive in class are either the dumb ones, or the smart ones.

  5. No. 9 has a flip-side: having negative, unsupportive people in your life is a HUGE drain on willpower.
    Beware of people (usually women, but not always) who want you to achieve the goals they’ve chosen for you.
    Supportive people want you to achieve the goals you’ve chosen for yourself.

  6. Good article. “Your friends can be major willpower assets.” They can also be major parasites.

  7. I read this book- found it excellent. Easy read, highly recommended.

  8. #7 can be a lot of things, I think. Your ‘want’ brain seizes a variety of short-term stimulii: could be junk food, alcohol, tobacco, web surfing to avoid a work task, sex or porn, or something as simple as sitting down and reading the newspaper front to back. When there is an important task to be done by the ‘should’ brain, our ‘want’ brain promises and delivers short-term pleasure, if we let it, to the detriment of what we know we should be doing instead.
    Many of my avoidance behaviors (reading unrelated to work is one, for me) induce a state in my brain that approximates intoxication. I stop stressing or even thinking about objectively more important things. This is not all bad. It is useful if you an insomniac, because you will be able to get back to sleep for a bit if you have diverting reading material next to your bed, and a reading light you can flick off without standing up (which breaks the spell). Often, though, it’s just a self-sabotaging cop-out, reflective of insufficient will or willpower, to place my thought in the context of this Red Pill Theorist post.
    FMI on the ‘want’ brain and the ‘should’ brain, read chapter 6, “Procrastination”, in You Are Not So Smart (David McRaney). Most of us have a bad habit or two (they tend to accumulate over time, incidentally; older guy here) that we need to manage. McRaney’s argument is that if we learn how to *think better about our thinking*, we will be able to recognize those behaviors that the primitive monkey brain (the ‘want’) compel us to practice, in opposition to those behaviors that we know are beneficial, but do not promise immediate gratification (the ‘should’ brain).
    I believe willpower requires conscious, concerted nurturing. One way to do that is be more self-aware about how we let our monkey brain deliver pleasure, when abstractly we know it’s just fucking up our potential.

  9. I always do the opposite of what you said in 4 And found it works very well. Instead of telling myself ill go easy on the next set i always say ‘if i cannot do 30 squats/presses, i will have to do 60 of the next exercise.’ The threat of a much more painful situation helps me push through pain in the now. The key is that the punishment should build you up. There is a positive outcome whether i succeed or fail. For habits where its difficult to find a positive (like porn or approach anxiety) i dont try to fight my impulses but instead indulge them while adding a small change. For instance if i get approach anxiety i dont tell myself not to be afraid. Instead
    I do the approach and deliberately screw it up. From then on i am not worried about messing up since ive already failed.

  10. “Looking at porn destroys willpower.”
    That was quite a leap of faith you took with that conclusion. I’m tired of this thinly veiled anti-porn agenda in the manosphere. Nobody cares you don’t fap, dude. It’s like gay people making sure everyone knows they are gay, and straight people never even thinking to bring it up.
    What #7 is REALLY saying is that men will go for the bang right away with an attractive girl, even if it means forgoing a meaningful relationship that will last a long time.
    Trying to extra that “porn destroys willpower” from that statement is absurd.
    ROK needs some editors.

  11. I’m currently reading this book, and it is very good, as is your summary of its helpful conclusions, not all of which I’ve come to yet in the book, itself. Based on the half I’ve read, I want to recommend the book to everyone I like.
    What seems lacking in the above article that gives the book power is a sample of the research showing the importance of willpower (arguing that it is second only to intelligence in predicting success) and a sample of the studies, like the one on two weeks of conscious posture improvement affecting the results of general willpower tests, showing that willpower can be increased. Inclusion of both these types of studies- and even the focus on willpower cultivation in Victorian times compared now, suggesting to the reader the notion may be more unfashionable than unimportant- motivate the reader (well, is motivating this reader) to take the cultivation of willpower, or life strategies with the concept of willpower in mind, seriously. A list of practical strategies, by itself, may be insufficient to motivate serious consideration.
    (Related aside) Articles shaming fat chicks should link to a list of books to help fat women recover from NorthAmericanWomanAppearanceSyndrome- or, much attention on makeup and expensive shoes and style, little attention on natural beauty and its required self restraint. It should be a good list, by someone who knows their shit, not like the author of the last “fat chicks suck” type article, who apparently had no idea what energy intake would achieve weight maintenance, loss, and gain for the normal woman. Even for a petite woman, 1000 calories is delusional. I could come up with a decent list! And Willpower would be on it.

  12. How about Martial Arts, or spiritual discipline? Will power is best built through defeat and difficulties. You shape metal by stressing it.

  13. Masturbation and porn makes one lazy, depressed and weak physically. Stopping these two changed many people’s lives for the better. Check yourbrainonporn.com for more information.

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