How to Hack Willpower.
I enjoyed a recent piano competition but my daughter was the only European face there. Why is this? Do New, New Zealanders have more willpower than others? Maybe they do.
A recent New Scientist article ‘Yes You Can” describes research that suggests that willpower can be learned, it’s not a limited resource. The old story that willpower is limited and that once used we fall back into slackness and bad habits is wrong. Children who learn; for example, to meditate, do have more willpower. Practice matters as does mental attitude.
The author described eight ways we can improve.
First, “Have some skin in the game”. Reward yourself and then take the reward away for non-performance. We hate losing. Second, program your home with sub-conscience prods: notes on the fridge and mirror, and on your screen saver. Be creative here. Third, Make the abstract visible: use graphs and visuals that chart your progress. I like to physically tick off sub-goals. Forth, Look after yourself, eat moderately and well, exercise and sleep. Fifth: regularly reward yourself. Chocolate works well. Sixth, think well, encouraging yourself. Don’t fight your habits, dance with them. Think positively moving toward your goals. Seventh, create a completion. I’m writing 300 words in half an hour. Find a friend to compete with. Eighth, just laugh. Have fun as your making progress. With all of these take a light touch as your making progress. Be gentle and encouraging with yourself.
Christian describes research that suggests that cultures that encourage and practice self-control encourage will-power. That is the reason my daughter is a minority at piano contests. Of course learning to stick to challenges, like piano; that’s excellent. That’s what the studies of grittiness show us. However, I have discussed this before and care is needed. (Book Review: Grit: the power of passion and perseverance. Angela Duckworth. https://sustainabilityandbeauty.wordpress.com/?s=grit)
I think too much focus on self-improvement and achievement is dangerous. Yes, work hard but burnout and depression are an enormous problem and we are all at risk. In New Zealand and worldwide these are major health problems. New Zealand’s youth suicide rate is one of the highest in the world. For a Father with an adolescent daughter and slightly older son; that’s frightening. Both perform well but that is no comfort. High performance is risky. Depression is a disease of everyone. Yes; those addicts, unemployed and sick become depressed but, as my Doctor explained, high achievers are too. When our best are set an impossible task, a common poor strategy is to work harder and harder (My Master’s thesis required this strategy, which worked). But there reaches a stage when this strategy fails. We burn out. Depression and burnout looms. When this happened to me it helped to know this is a high-achiever disease. The lesson is that balance and thought is needed. We can hack will-power, just be mindful.
So to what to do? By all means hack your willpower. Practice being “gritty” and build your self-awareness, look after yourself! Eat well. Think well of yourself and sleep well. Dance with the challenges and succeed.