The best way to reduce stress in your life is to stop screwing up. That’s the conclusion of Roy F Baumeister and John Tierney in their book Willpower – Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. They found willpower gives people the strength to persevere and to make good decisions – but willpower is easily depleted.
Things that deplete our willpower include difficult decisions, lots of decisions, lack of sleep, lack of food, disorganization, trying to change a habit, making other major changes, starting to exercise, chronic pain, and dieting. Once our willpower is depleted, we tend to make more mistakes, to find decisions harder to make, to be more irritable, and to eat, drink, and spend too much.
You can strengthen your willpower by making sure you are getting enough sleep, eating regularly – especially at breakfast time – and recognizing your supply of willpower is limited. To strengthen your willpower, you want to develop effective habits. Your brain loves routines and habits, but it hates changing them. So just developing new habits will deplete your willpower. But your strengthened willpower will pay off in the future.
To strengthen your willpower:
- DO have one clear annual goal.
- DO convert your annual goal into monthly goals.
- DO identify your top three To Do’s for each week.
- DO your top three To Do’s first.
- DO have a To Don’t list, which outlaws phrases like:
- “I’m too busy.”
- “I’m too tired.”
- “I deserve a cookie.”
- “I’ll do that later.”
- DO recognize that whatever your conscious mind says to your subconscious, your subconscious believes every word. Instead of saying “it’s too hard”, say “it’s hard, but it’s not too hard”. Instead of saying “I should/I must”, say “I would prefer to”.
- DO set up to avoid crises. For example, hitting the snooze button too often, procrastinating, and believing that last minute rushes work as well as a systematic planned approach.
- DO review your progress regularly and reward yourself for good progress.
- DO remind yourself that like any development, strengthening your willpower takes time and effort.
- DO resist poor decision making, by writing out your rationale for the decision.
To strengthen your willpower:
- DON’T work on important decisions when you are tired, hungry or angry.
- DON’T forget Murphy’s Laws when you’re planning.
- 1. Nothing is as simple as it seems.
- 2. Everything takes longer than you think.
- 3. If anything can go wrong, it will.
- DON’T set unrealistic deadlines.
- DON’T procrastinate on fun, allow specific time for it.
Use these do’s and don’ts to strengthen your willpower. You will decrease your stress and increase your enjoyment of life. Your enriched willpower will do more than just help you get through crises; it will help you avoid them.
In the Conclusion chapter of Baumeister and Tierney’s book, they say:
“Everyone appreciates the benefits of self-control – someday. But when, if ever, is that day ever going to arrive? If willpower is finite and temptations keep proliferating, how can there be a lasting revival of this virtue?
We don’t minimize the obstacles, but we’re still bullish on the future of self-control, at both the personal and social level. Yes, temptations are getting more sophisticated, but so are the tools for resisting them. The benefits of willpower are appreciated more clearly than ever. You could sum up a large new body of research literature with the simple rule: The best way to reduce stress in your life is to stop screwing up.”