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I’m an Agilist, a former software engineer, a gamer, an improviser, a podcaster emeritus, and a wine lover. Learn more.

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Monday
Dec052011

9 Things, Part 7

This post is part of my series on Heidi Grant Halvorson’s 9 Things Successful People Do Differently and my experiences with her advice.

Thing #7: Build Your Willpower Muscle

A host of research experiments have demonstrated that self-control is more like a physical strength than we previously realized. Willpower is something that we can use up — after which point we have to let it recover. It’s also a capability we can improve — with regular workouts. And because achieving so many of our goals requires us to resist temptation, developing the willpower muscle is a key to success.

There is growing body of research regarding things you can do to replenish your willpower when it wanes, but one of the easiest things you can do to increase it is to pick a behavior that requires you to suppress a simple urge and do it every day. (Some examples from the research are giving up a favorite sweet, refraining from cursing, using your off-hand to open doors or brushing your teeth, and not starting sentences with the word “I.”) The simple act of making your bed every morning will improve your capacity for self-control. You can then take that improvement and use it to resist whatever temptation is holding you back from achieving your next goal.

Milo of Croton was a wrestler who won six victories at the ancient Olympic games. According to legend, one element of his training regimen involved lifting a newborn calf over his head. As the calf grew older, he continued to do this every day, such that after four years, he was able to carry a full-grown bull. I have a ton of little routines I go through every day: Scrubbing my to-do list, tracking what I eat, keeping the house clean, writing in this blog, and half a dozen more. Each of these requires an act of will; together they’re a big bull. That’s why I started with a calf, with only two or three of these to begin with until built up my strength through repetition. Then I moved on to a bigger (metaphorical) bovine.

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