Fact: Any decision that requires self-control drains your energy.
Not buying ice cream I just saw in the deli = -1 energy
Writing this post instead of cruising facebook = -2 energy
Going to the gym instead of drinks = -3 energy | +5 energy tomorrow
Regardless of the choice I make, so long as I’m struggling with temptation, I’m exerting energy.
As our energy diminishes, so does our willpower because it requires energy to exercise self-control. Think it’s coincidental that people eat sweets, skip the gym, or overindulge in alcohol at night vs. the morning? It’s partially because a day of decision making causes the tides to fall in our energy reservoir. And when we lack energy, we opt for the path of least resistance as to preserve the little we have left.
So how do we stay on track and avoid succumbing to temptations like eating ice cream, skipping the gym, or cleaning your room instead of doing something hard?
Two ways to approach conquering this:
- Enter the battle-dome with more energy in order to promote self-control
- Make each difficult decision more doable so that you can accomplish it with less self-control and when willpower is diminished
One practice that draws upon both approaches to increase self-control is creating a “No Thanks List”. I learned this from Peter Bregman’s book 18 minutes. His list outlines a set of scenarios where he’s determined that saying “no thanks” is the best response. His goal is to eliminate distraction and help him maintain his focus.
My “No Thanks List” consists of things which I have decided I will try to never do. Mine is more focused on cultivating willpower. The goal of the list is to create good habits and strengthen them by repetition.
Habits take an if-then form. If I encounter X, I will react by doing Y. Decisions become automatic eliminating the mentally taxing cost-benefit analysis. Thus, a habit requires far less energy than having to make a decision, especially when the optimal choice requires greater resistance.
Building habits around what were previously challenging decisions accomplishes two things:
- It leaves you with more energy, thus more willpower following the interaction
- It makes things that were tough more doable which means you can accomplish them when you have less willpower
|No Thanks Item||Reason Why|
|Standing on an escalator when there is room to walk||More exercise, quicker, and its just looks like you’re in no rush to get where you’re going. If that’s really how you feel you have bigger fish to fry. Carpe diem people!|
|Indulging in free food or beer when I didn’t intend on eating or drinking||The things I consume in these instances are usually total crap from a health standpoint. I shouldn’t justify consuming it simply because it’s free. If I’m hungry that’s one thing, but otherwise it’s just excess that I pretty much always regret|
|Checking my phone while I’m in a conversation with someone||Despite the fact our world accepts this, it’s generally rude thing to do. 99.9% of the time, whatever I’m looking at can wait. Live in the moment!|
|Skipping a rep when doing an exercise or stopping my runs short of the time I set out to go for (excluding injuries)||If you don’t finish in even just one part of your life, you won’t finish everywhere else. Routinely doing this not only cheats my workouts, but more importantly, is a recipe for developing the incredibly bad habit of not finishing.|
|Putting sugar or an artificial sweetener in my coffee||Yeah it tastes good, but I enjoy the coffee just fine without this crap. All sweeteners really do is cause me to drink it way faster which makes me want more coffee = $, less energy over time|
|Eating or cleaning instead of doing something hard||This is a textbook example of opting for the path of least resistance. Doing this not only hampers getting important things done, but again risks poor habit creation.|
|Taking free swag I’ll never wear or use||This creates clutter. I hate clutter. If I didn’t have it already and am doing just fine, I probably don’t need it. Because it’s free doesn’t mean that’s a good reason to take it.|
|Opting in to email offers to save trivial amounts of money or be “entered to win something”||The juice never ends up being worth the squeeze. And seriously, has anyone ever actually won something from one of these?|
|Shopping around for items less than $20||Spending lots of time for a minimal return.|
The general theme for all these items is that abstaining from the action serves my long term best interest. Ideally you get to a point where you won’t even consider opting for the less beneficial decision – you just react. Getting there is not easy though. Its reminds me of when someone first told me drinking water is better than soda as a kid. Whether I was out to eat or had my paws in the fridge, choosing water was so hard in the beginning…dude where’s the bubbles? But eventually the pain that came from that decision became an afterthought, and the decision to order water felt pretty automatic. Ordering water went from a challenge to just something I did.
Is it really necessary to make a list? Yes, it is, because it establishes rules. Even when the consequences lack enforcement, rules make it incrementally easier to stay the course versus than when things are ambiguously defined. And again, consistently staying the course makes it easier to…well, consistently stay the course : )