In this book Roy Baumeister and John Tierney talk about Willpower, why it is important, how successful people have implemented the power of willpower in their own lives, and how to build and practice our own muscle of “willpower”.

Success has attributed to 2 qualities: intelligence and self control. Researchers have not been able to permanently increase intelligence, but they have discovered how to improve self-control.

Most major problems center in self control - e.g. compulsive spending, impulsive violence, unhealthy diet etc.

People spend about a quarter of their waking hours resisting desires - at least 4 hours per day. And that doesn’t include the instances in which willpower is exercised.

Every successful person has the quality of self-control, but it is rarely ever mentioned as a reason for success (It is almost always mentioned as the reason for failure).

In this book Baumeister and Tierney talk about how people who have mastered self control are more successful, in all aspects of their life as compared to their counterparts.

Ultimately self-control lets you relax because it removes stress and enables you to conserve willpower for the important challenges.

Is willpower more than a metaphor?

“Ego Depletion” - Baumeister’s term for describing people’s diminished capacity to regulate their thoughts, feelings and actions.

When the brain was wired up with an EEG to monitor the anterior cingulate cortex (or the conflict monitoring system or error detection system), it was discovered that people who act against what they actually feel, face ego depletion and are not able to do subsequent tasks correctly. E.g. 50% of the people were showed a sad movie but were asked to suppress their emotions. These people went on to not being able to do unrelated tasks properly after the movie, compared to their counterparts who did not go through ego-depletion.

Studying thousands of people inside and outside a laboratory, experiments consistently demonstrated:

  • you have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it
  • you use the same stock of willpower for all manner of tasks

We can divide the uses of willpower into 4 broad categories:

  • control of thoughts: earworms such as a song stuck in your head, to ways in which we deceive ourselves (e.g. Tiger woods convinced himself that monogamy didn’t apply to him, bankers convinced themselves that there was no problem issuing loans to people having no income and no assetts)
  • control of emotions: controlling feeings - e.g. trying to escape bad moods
  • impulse control: the ability to resist temptations like alcohol, tobacco, Cinnabons and cocktail waitresses
  • performance control: Focusing your energy on the task at hand

If you are trying to make a big change in your life that requires willpower - make sure to focus only on that change. The limited willpower that one has is used for all aspects of their life - no matter how unrelated. e.g. quitting alcohol, saying good things about bullys - both share the same willpower resources.

Willpower isn’t just a metaphor. There is power driving this virtue.

Where does the power in Willpower come from?

There is a very strong correlation between glucose in the body and willpower. The more glucose that is converted from the bloodstream and pumped into the brain, the higher is the person’s willpower. No glucose, no willpower.

When people have more demands for self-control in their daily life, their hunger for sweets increases. Not hunger for food in general, but the hunger for sweets.

Don’t try to skimp on calories when working on serious problems (more serious than being overweight). Sugar can be used effectively to boost your self control right before a brief challenge - like a math test.

To get your glucose, go for the “slow burn” - i.e. food that takes a while to digest (low glycemic index) and can sustain you got a longer time.

Sleep also affect how effective the body is to create glucose. Which is why having a good nights sleep is beneficial for willpower.