How to Strengthen Your Willpower…Choose Wisely (part 2)

by Michelle Acker on September 6, 2011

in Choose Wisely

choose to have a great day

photo credit: emdot, on Flickr

Choose Wisely – A new series on how the littlest choices can have a huge impact on our willpower, productivity, and decision-making energy.

I’m pulling in information I’ve learned from several different areas and fitting them together like a puzzle for this series. I’m so glad you’re here so I can share my experiences with you. I’m not an expert in any of these fields, by any means.  I’m just doing some research, connecting the dots, and trying to find out what works for me to help conserve willpower and make better choices in my life. I’m sharing as I go along with you, because I think many of you might be surprised, as I was, to learn that willpower isn’t just something you have or you don’t.  It’s a form of mental energy, and it can be conserved, drained, or built back up.

Last week, we learned that willpower is mental energy that can be drained. When it’s gone, you either start making reckless choices, you know, the ‘well, it seemed like a good idea at the time’ kind, or you avoid making a choice by doing nothing at all.

From my perspective, there are TWO big problems that we need to be aware of in regard to decision making and willpower:

  • You might not necessarily feel tired or mentally drained, so you might not recognize that you’re making reckless decisions. Ever had one of those “what was I thinking?” moments?  You were probably low on this kind of mental energy.
  • Even seemingly small or inconsequential decisions, such as ‘should I wear jeans or my brown skirt today?’ will drain your mental energy and willpower. This being worn down by all the choices we have to make each day happens to everyone.  What does this mean for us? How do you strengthen your willpower?

You only have a certain amount of mental energy available for willpower and self-control. Choose Wisely.

Last week, I asked myself, “Do you want to use up that precious mental energy early in the day figuring out what to wear, what to have for breakfast, or what you need to do that day? Or would you rather have some willpower left later in the day?”  The answer was obvious, so I decided to try a new strategy:

Choose Wisely Strategy #1:

Strengthen your willpower-Do whatever you can the night before, so that in the morning you don’t have to start off making a bunch of decisions and draining your mental energy.

  • Lay out your clothes, even your shoes. If you have kids, lay out their clothes too.
  • Pack lunches, backpacks, briefcases, workout gear, whatever you’ll need to take in the morning, so that it’s done and out of the way.
  • Plan what you’ll have for breakfast
  • Make a to-do list for the next day
  • Plan dinner, so that late in the day when willpower is lower, you are less likely to make a poor choice.

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking to yourself, ‘Well, that’s nothing new!’  People have been giving that advice for years.  And that’s true!  But it’s a way to conserve willpower for more important decisions you’ll be making later in the day, and that’s why it’s important.

This week's plan to do list

photo credit: the green gal (This printable is available as a free download. Just click the picture.)

So, how did it go? Well, if I’m being honest, it is really hard for me to do all this at the end of the day.  I’m tired.  I’m worn out, and I just want to sit down and relax. But, somehow, having all that stuff done for the next day actually helps me relax and sleep better. There is a weight lifted off my shoulders.  I know I can wake up and not be rushed, or frantically trying to clear my sleepy mind to figure out what needs to be done.  I realized that a lot of this stuff could be done in the afternoons, and not just right before bed.  That helps make things a little smoother as well.  The mornings are SO much easier.  If fact, when I realized exactly how easy they were, I promised myself not to go back to my old ways of doing things.

YOUR turn! Try it. Then come back and let me know about your success or struggles.


Next week we’ll be talking about how to establish simple family routines to help conserve mental energy and make life easier.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Lori September 6, 2011 at 1:03 PM

Planning meals for the week is a big help too. I don’t always get it done but if I can come up with 2 or 3 ideas, at least, that takes a weight off as well. When I do plan ahead I try to make at least a couple of the meals be something that can be swapped (as far as which day) just in case the evening schedule gets changed.

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