One of the most interesting ideas I heard in a long time was from the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Based on research it was determined that people’s willpower is something that is depleted over time. This means that your mental energy reserve is depleted throughout the day. The number of activities that take up your energy, your mental capacity, are all competing for the same fuel, and once that tank is empty you either need to recharge or suffer from not having the appropriate inner resources to deal with the what comes next.
Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things. – Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit
This makes a lot of sense when you are looking to start a new habit, skill, or just need the energy to spend with your loved ones. Career, colleagues, working out, and family are all competing for the same reserve of fuel, or as psychologists call it, ego depletion. Baumeister, the researcher, was interviewed by The Atlantic and says, “people suffer from ego depletion on an almost daily basis… in the context of their everyday lives and normal activities.” Therefore, if you have a difficult day at work, then force yourself to work out before heading home, your family only gets whatever energy you have left over if there is any.
1. Be Mindful of Your Activities
Know where you want and need to spend your energy. There is a balancing act. Some days you will need to spend more energy at work than with your family or on yourself, but don’t make that the habit. You and those around you deserve more than when you’re internally drained.
2. View Tasks as Motivating
Another study, summarized by 99U in How to Power Through Any Demanding Task, states that if the additional tasks you are about to complete are viewed as motivating, you are likely to complete them. Spin your additional tasks so that you are able to see the fun and uplifting aspects of them. Use language with yourself that helps instill this in you, without “sugar-coating” it too much.
3. Willpower Takes Practice
NYTimes magazine said, “you can learn techniques to achieve your goals, perhaps through a coach, a counselor or even a good self-help book.” So, the little ways that you are currently advancing yourself is actually working. As well, always reward yourself for a exerting yourself a little bit more and you will beginning to train yourself into a new way of being.
4. Reserve Your Energy For What’s Important
Look at your energy throughout the day like a fuel tank. If you are on top of your game, at 100%, you can divide your energy out accordingly. Maybe it’s based on the number of hours you spend at each location, in which case, work would only take 50% of your total energy for the day, assuming you sleep for 8 hours (energy build up time) and work for 8 hours a day. When you finish a day at work do you still feel like you have half your energy still built up?
Look at your life differently. What would you spend more time doing? How would that change your day? For a mental experiment imagine that instead of starting your day at work and using your remaining energy for home and personal, what if your personal time came first and your energy reserves left over were devoted to work? What would you do in a day?
The most productive people ensure they always have enough willpower and energy for what is important. They are able to reward themselves at the end of the day and the feeling of accomplishing more activities than office hours gives them a renewed sense of vigor.
How would you change your day if you reversed your work and personal hours in a day?