The Other I

January 29, 2012

Will power tricks that work?

Filed under: Diet,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:14 pm

I’ve been reading a review of recent research on will power and several interesting things caught my interest.  I’ve always been pretty organized and able to concentrate on getting a task done.  But without the discipline required by an academic job and also with age, I find that I could use a little help focussing on the job at hand rather than fiddling.

The first thing I noted is that will power uses up physical energy.  So we do not have an unlimited supply.  Will power, like everything else, literally needs replenishing with bouts of nutrition, exercise, rest, and recreation.  We can’t assume that if we can run one mile  we can do it ten times in a row without stopping.  Will power works just the same.

So it’s better not to make a whole host of resolutions in one fell swoop.   It’s better not even to have a long list of To Do’s which act like “shoulds” on the unconscious level and will use up will power even if we aren’t aware of it.  Because failed acts of the will are just as draining as successful ones.  (The research doesn’t say this, as far as I can see, but I think failure uses up even more energy than success.)

In addition, there were three suggestions for increasing will power that were new to me.  I’ve tried the third already which to my surprise seems to work, and this month I am about to add a second to my repertoire.

The first suggestion is to be realistic about how long it will take to do a task.  Most people underestimate how long it will take to get something done by about 50%.  So half way through the job we already are frustrated and feel like giving up.  So I am going to double the time I estimate a task will take.  That way, I should have a feeling of freedom and space throughout the day and have a much greater feeling of accomplishment at the end of it.

The second suggestion is to use the nothing alternative.  This sounds like a license to waste time but it’s really a method for avoiding procrastination and distraction.  What the nothing alternative involves is to do nothing if I have set aside a space of time to do a task and for some reason am fiddling instead of doing it.  This is a big one for a writer like me.  It means that when I can’t think of what to write, I can’t fill the time playing Free Cell or Spider anymore.   I can’t write emails or read the news on-line.  I don’t have to write, but I can’t do anything else either.

The third strategy is for dealing with compulsive behavior like going off a diet, or drinking too much.  It’s just say no.   It sounds like the kind of sex advice I was given as an adolescent, but which I have long thought was out of date and absolutely would have predicted would be of no use whatsoever.  But I’ve tried it for about three weeks now,  raging around the kitchen looking for something sugary to eat.  “Just say no!” I’ve been saying to myself.  So far I’ve lost three pounds.  I only want to lose five more to get down to what I weighed as a teenager, and at my age I’m deliberately doing it very very slowly.  Two pounds a month max.

I’ve just listed three changes, one of which I’ve been practicing already for most of January.  This month I am introducing the Be Realistic approach to constructing my to-do list.  I’m really looking forward to trying the  Nothing Alternative practice, though, so I might just sneak a bit of that in too.

I’ll write a post in a month or so confessing whether this is one of my many resolutions which have been lost on the way.

Or whether these really are steps to that elusive goal of becoming master of my own decisions.






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