A beggar approaches a well-dressed woman and says, “I haven’t eaten anything in four days.”
“God,” she says, turning to face him. “I wish I had your willpower.”
Sad joke, right? I think so, namely because it’s realistic. As a society, we seem to have a somewhat convoluted idea of willpower is. In my humble opinion…
Recently I had the opportunity to interview several experts on the topic, including renowned social psychologist and researcher Roy F. Baumeister. His latest research is featured in “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength,” a book I highly recommend. He and Karen R. Koenig, a licensed psychotherapist and author of “The Rules of ‘Normal’ Eating” addressed willpower, whether it exists, how it relates to diet and how to strengthen it. (To read the full article, click here.)
“Willpower is a traditional folk term based on the idea that a person uses some energy to resolve inner conflicts and do the right thing,” Baumeister told me. “Self-control is how you change your responses, and willpower is an essential ingredient of that process.”
We experience temptation for about 4 hours each day, according to his research, with a success rate of about 50 percent. Snack foods, that extra nap, the TV, sex, internet popups and social media can lure us from tasks, making it difficult to complete them with efficient ease. Because we have a limited supply of willpower, says Bauermeister, using it wisely is key.
So how does this relate to writing? Whether you believe in willpower or not, we can all benefit from increasing our willingness, desire and success in sitting our butts down and writing well. Right???
1. Set realistic goals. Most people fail to do this, setting themselves up for failure and disappointment. Rather than aim to write 10,000 words per day or four books per year (unless your publishing deal demands it), aim for five to 10 pages per day or a reasonable amount of time each week.
2. Eat well. Maintaining positive glucose levels in your brain, which stems from carbohydrates, promotes heightened willpower and self-control. Sugary sweets provide a short burst of glucose, which can be helpful for immediate, short-term goals (like a last-minute writing contest, for example). Otherwise, aim for balanced meals and snacks throughout each day, emphasizing complex carbohydrate sources. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables are useful options. Don’t partake in dieting or let too much time pass without eating.
3. Practice. Willpower functions like a muscle, according to Baumeister. If we fail to practice it, we’ll fail to grow. If we stay atop those realistic goals we’re likely to not only reach them, but increase our ability to demonstrate self-control in general. If you struggle with writing daily, for example, try every day, in small increments. It will get easier.
4. Write with passion. I personally believe that fulfilling our heart’s desires facilitates willpower, self-control and success. This is why we may feel entirely unmotivated to do, say, math or taxes (blech!), but spring out of bed with gusto in the morning knowing we get to write. If you love writing, write. And choose topics you love.
5. Sleep enough. Even a mild sleep deficiency can zap our creativity and abilities to focus, learn and remember. Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep per night.
Any steps to add? Challenges you’re facing? Challenges you’ve overcome? I’d love to hear from you. In either case, stay well and write merry.