Willpower is a muscle. I heard this statement on a Youtube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0KQanVxMck) that I stumbled upon while mindlessly scrolling through my social media feeds (that I do several times a day, sadly). But somehow this short sentence stuck out and I kept thinking about it for a long long time.
Willpower can be developed with the right exercise and practice, just like a muscle in the body. Following are some tips to strengthen the willpower muscle from the video and my understanding of them.
- Always finish what you begin- It is a common human tendency to start something that looks exciting but give up on it when it tends to become monotonous or demanding or boring or when one finds something more exciting. This has happened to me several times with books, fitness routines, new year resolutions, and some habits that I have thought about building. Thinking about this I realized that if only I had gone on to finish what I started, how much better I would feel about myself, how that would have changed me as a person and how I could have accomplished so much more in that one area. I am also reminded of a story which is not strictly related to will power but more about how to go about finishing what you started. Two groups of adventurers landed on Antarctica in a bid to trek up to the South pole. They started from the same point but took two different routes. The first group decided that they would cover 20 miles a day, everyday, not more not less, irrespective of the weather conditions or any obstacles they face. The second group decided that they would cover whatever distance they could cover conveniently depending on the weather conditions. The first group kept trudging along through hurricanes, landslides, avalanches and whatever else came their way but made sure they covered 20 miles everyday irrespective of whether the conditions were favourable or not. The second group, on the other hand, covered much more than 20 on some days when the going was good and weather conditions were favourable, but decided to take rest or cover lesser distance on the days when conditions were rough. Guess which group reached the south pole and which didn’t. Well, if you are still confused, it was the first group because they stuck to their resolve of doing 20 miles a day. The second group kept adjusting their pace as per conditions and as they got closer to the south pole the conditions became more and more hostile leaving them without any motivation to move forward.
- Finish well beyond your expectations- This point is essentially another way of saying “under-commit and over-deliver”, something that we keep hearing in the business world all the time. If you start something, it is easier to keep going beyond what you had in mind when you started. But if you don’t start, well you won’t get anywhere anyway. If one makes it a point to get started on cultivating a new habit, a new fitness routine or a new project — and then goes on to take it to a logical conclusion, it is easier go beyond one’s own expectations. Getting there would make one the willpower muscle stronger and easier to repeat the process for any further projects in the future. As Vince Lombardi has said, “Winning is a habit.” The more you do it, the easier it gets. And that is precisely why the rich keep getting richer and so on..
- Do a little bit more than you think you are able to do- This is the third and last tenet from this video. This is something that I have experienced again and again in my own life, and observed several other people do it. It applies beautifully in the physical fitness routines, where a trainer would push one to go beyond what one thinks are one’s limits. And any lasting change in fitness occurs only when one makes it a habit to do that little bit extra. This has worked for me in my experiments with intermittent fasting or when I tried to start running. (I still have a long way to go in this area, so I will save the details for another day.) But that little bit extra always makes the big difference between greatness and mediocrity in any field. There are numerous quotes from great sportsmen like Mohammed Ali and Sachin Tendulkar about how a little extra practice make them do better than their competitors who were more gifted or talented but practiced less.
I am going to try and remind myself of this mantra everyday to make my willpower muscle stronger and do that little bit extra in all areas that I want to do better in — be it my fitness, my meditation practice, my reading, my writing and my career.
I’ll be happy to hear about your experiences with your will power and how you made it stronger.