[This post is part of a series on willpower and how to understand and use it. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
An example of an ineffective way to use willpower to get in shape is to will yourself to go to the gym two days a week for a year. An effective way is to search for healthy activities that you love and make them a part of your life, letting go of activities you don’t like. Or to find people who live active lifestyles you like and spend time with them, at the expense of people who don’t live active lifestyles.
For example, I bought my rowing machine not to get in shape, although I knew it would do that, I got it because I knew I would enjoy the feeling of using it. I use it because I enjoy it. Being in shape is a side benefit.
An example of an ineffective way to use willpower to diet is to follow a new diet no matter what until you achieve its goals. An effective way is to find healthy food you love and make it a part of your life. Or to find activities like cooking or gardening that you love that promote healthy nutrition. Or to find things about unhealthy food — partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, high fructose corn syrup, factory farmed meat, and such — that make them unappetizing, in favor of healthy foods.
For example, I don’t not eat meat and avoid partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, high fructose corn syrup, and refined foods because I want to deprive myself of something I enjoy. I do so because I don’t like them. I don’t understand people who like meat and try not to eat it. If they feel like there’s something wrong with eating meat, why don’t they find reasons not to like it?
An ineffective way to use willpower to control your temper is to force yourself to calm down when you’re angry. An effective was is to will yourself to pause, walk away, or look at other perspectives long enough until the moment passes, you aren’t enraged, and you can enjoy calmer discussion.
For example, I get angry, forget to pause, and feel compelled to win arguments at times, but when I’m aware I remember how much more influential I am when I listen to the other person and use their point of view as a starting point. So I use willpower to remind myself how much more effectively I achieve my goals with empathy over reactivity. Then I act thoughtfully without mental effort.
An ineffective way to write everyday is to force yourself to do it every day no matter what. An effective way is to find out if you enjoy and learn from it, then to do so.
For example, I write because I enjoy and learn from it. It doesn’t take mental effort to do something I enjoy.
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