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Budgeting our willpower

It is common knowledge that we get tired after a long day at work. Many a time, we attribute it to the physical strain that we have placed on ourselves to last through the day. But logically speaking for the nature of most of our jobs... How strenuous can seating long hours in front of a screen be! There has to be something more!


Willpower is a finite resource

In recent years, research has established that just like how we have a finite amount of physical strength (which is dependent on our muscular, respiratory and circulatory systems), we too have a finite amount of mental energy. Each time we make decisions, process information or will ourselves against temptations, we use up some of our willpower. This explains why after a long day of work (with our mental energy depleted from all the brain work), we are more likely to succumb to Netflix binge, mindless scrolling of social media and junk food!


Using our willpower efficiently

With the understanding that we have a finite amount of willpower each day (not to mention that there are also "good" and "bad" days which I am sure you can relate to), it makes sense for us to try and be as efficient with our use of our mental energy as we can. The general tip is simple and logical: reduce the amount of thinking required. This by no means suggests that we submit substandard work, but challenge ourselves to invest a bit more effort into practising more effective automation of decision making and delegation.


Consider which simple but frequent decisions can be automated without much compromise in the quality of life. Here are some suggestions for you to consider:

  • decide on/shortlist a series of clothes that you will wear for each week

  • design a template plan for each week to be used as a base which you can customise with minimal effort.

  • map out a decision tree for more complex decision-making processes which you have to undertake regularly

  • create a priority list to help you decide how to prioritise your conflicting schedules

  • have a checklist for any processes that you are concern that you may forget (especially if there are more than 5 items)

  • have a "dumping ground" for things that you will constantly "hold in your head" — for me, I have a notebook and a series of small post-its which I will dump what I thought of quickly onto the post-its. Alternatively, I may just send a Telegram message to myself.


Recovering our willpower

Analogous to physical energy, we can "recharge/recover" our energy. Just like how we rest and recover from muscle aches, we can too allow our mental energy to replenish through rest. And by rest, it means we do things that do not consume much mental energy. This is the challenging part. As our minds are so accustomed to experiencing constant mental stimulations and activities, it is challenging for us to slow down and relax! It feels almost like getting a boat to drop an anchor while it is cruising along the rapids. I attribute this to be the reason why it is so hard to head to bed early even though we know it is good for us (and what we actually need).


Honestly speaking, I am still on the search for an effective recovery activity that does not require a lot of willpower to get started and at the same time, is sufficiently rewarding and pleasurable. As a stereotypical guy, I find myself gravitating towards electronic games which are obviously designed to be mentally and graphically engaging (it does not help that I enjoy strategic games). Sports and exercise work well but the inertia to get started is real. Meditation does not go well with my physical condition. But these are great ideas for you to explore should you be also on the lookout for meaningful activities to recharge your mental energy.


Let me know if you have more suggestions in the comment below!



"Low power." - Brain


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