Use Less Willpower to Have More Self-control. What?!

Many of our problems come from insufficient self-control.

Could be having a hard time stopping porn/masturbation. Could be problems at work, problems in marriage, problems with health and losing weight.

How do we go about trying to control ourselves?

We use willpower.

I’m going to be summing up the most applicable-to-our-cause things I learned from reading the book, Willpower, by Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney.

In the book, they show various impressive studies that were done to reach all of the following conclusions. I am leaving out the studies and summarizing the conclusions.

In Part 1:

  • What Depletes Willpower
  • What Replenishes Willpower
  • What Conserves Willpower
  • What Strengthens Willpower

In Part 2:

  • What Improves Self-control
  • Random Useful Gems For Self-control

Willpower requires energy.

“The adult human brain makes up 2 percent of the body but consumes more than 20% of its energy.”

Inside each one of us, both energy and willpower exist in finite amounts.

If self-control is an issue for us, and if willpower is such a precious resource, it will help us to direct our willpower toward the things that give us the most bang for our buck.

You use the same single stock of willpower for all manner of tasks in your life.

Scientists call depleting willpower, ego depletion.

What depletes willpower?

  • Effort to resist a temptation.
  • Effort to control emotional reactions (faking it is costly to willpower reserve).
  • Stress.
  • Being sick (driving sick can be worse than drunk driving because of all the glucose diverted to the immune system).
  • Having conflicting goals (example).
  • Tasks undone drain willpower until we complete them or simply plan them (write it down).
  • Making decisions: decision fatigue (whether you like the activity or not, although a little less depletion if you enjoy it).
  • Waffling and renegotiating a decision.
  • Going off a routine (if you shave every day, it will take more willpower to not shave than to stick with your habit and shave).
  • Establishing a new habit.
  • Having vague, or unclear, boundaries/rules for yourself.
  • Resisting an emotion or urge (this doesn’t mean you just give in to the urge. You can allow it to be there without giving in).
  • Forcing yourself to do something you don’t really want to do at the moment.

We Aren’t Good at Recognizing That It’s Depleted

Willpower depletion isn’t intuitively obvious and people do not have a gut-level sense of this. There’s no obvious “feeling” of depletion.

Signs that willpower is depleting:

  • Increased overall intensity of your feelings, whether good of bad.
  • Craving sweets may be a sign.
  • Suddenly hard to make up mind about even simple things.
  • Your capacity for fairness and balanced judgment will suffer.
  • You’ll be more inclined to stick with status quo than to compromise.

Willpower depletion creates a double whammy: willpower is diminished and your cravings feel stronger than ever.

What Replenishes Willpower?

  • Sleep (less glucose needed for brain activity and better ability to use glucose efficiently).
  • Glucose (converts into neurotransmitters required to think. No glucose, no willpower).
  • Note: sugar acts fast but doesn’t last, leaves you more depleted.
  • Protein replenishes glucose more slowly than sugar but lasts longer.
  • Sleep is more important than food.

What Helps Conserve Willpower?

  • Making conclusions/decisions ahead of time.
  • Making one change at a time rather than multiple (ie, focus on 1 New Years Resolution instead of 10).
  • Planning (having a monthly plan is better than just one day at a time. You can adjust the daily plans to work toward overall monthly plan).
  • Do-goals (for goal of “write thank you cards,” include “find pen, acquire cards/stamps/envelopes, write them, address them, ship them”).
  • Small daily task instead of tackling one giant task.
  • Staying committed to a decision already made. Sticking with an already established habit/routine.
  • Attack a project a “page-a-day” instead of “binge writing”.
  • Having clear, simple, unambiguous rules for yourself.
  • Allowing and processing feelings and urges.
  • Expend some effort on neatness (working in a well-organized area takes less willpower than working in a messy area).

What Strengthens Willpower?

Repetition and practice.


fitness power man person
Photo by Binyamin Mellish on

Part 2: Self-control

People with more self-control actually use less willpower than people with poor self-control.

“People with good self-control mainly use [willpower] not for rescue in emergencies but rather to develop effective habits and routines.”

Some Conclusions About Self-control:

  • First two steps in self-control. 1. Setting a goal. 2. Monitoring yourself.
  • Having a meaningful purpose to focus on improves self-control.
  • Seeing strict rules for yourself as love, rather than oppression, is important.
  • People who can see themselves in the mirror while working are generally more productive than those who can’t.
  • People care more about what other people know about them than about what they know about themselves. This can be used to your advantage. Example: accountability partner.
  • Like shaving. “Orderly habits can actually improve self-control in the long run by triggering automatic mental processes that don’t require much energy.”

“Self-control is more indispensable than gunpowder” -Stanley

Navy Seal example:

“At least three-quarter of the men in each SEAL class typically fail to complete training, and the survivors aren’t necessarily the ones with the most muscles, according to Eric Greitens, a SEAL officer. In recalling the fellow survivors of his Hell Week, he points out their one common quality: “They had the ability to step outside of their own pain, put aside their own fear, and ask: How can I help the guy next to me? They had more than the ‘fist’ of courage and physical strength. They also had a heart large enough to think about others.”

A principle of self-control: focus on lofty thoughts.

Utilize “Why” questions. “”Why” questions push the mind up to higher levels of thinking and a focus on the future.

“How” questions bring the mind down to low levels of thinking and a focus on the present.”

Self-control improves while thinking in the high-level terms compared to the low-level terms.

“Narrow, concrete, here-and-now focus works against self-control, whereas a broad, abstract, long-term focus supports it.”

Religion Improves Self-control

  • “Prayers and meditation rituals are “a kind of anaerobic workout for self-control.””
  • Religion improves the monitoring of a behavior, a central step of self-control.
  • “Psychologists have found that people who attend religious services for extrinsic reasons, like wanting to impress others or make social connections, don’t have the same high level of self-control as the true believers.”
  • Giving your personal goals an aura of sacredness improves self-control.
  • “Students who spent more time in Sunday school scored higher on laboratory tests of self-discipline.”

Weight Loss

  • Never go on a diet.
  • Whether judging yourself or others, never equate being overweight with having weak willpower. The same could be said of porn/masturbation.
  • The “What-the-hell Affect.” If you “blow your diet” for the day, that day is mentally classified as a failure, regardless of what else happens. So you think “What the hell, I might as well enjoy myself today” and the resulting binge is far worse than the original relapse. Those binges do more damage than one might think.
  • After a sad movie, it wasn’t the sadness that led to depleted willpower and extra ice cream as much as it was the resisting of the feelings.
  • Monitoring: People who weigh themselves every day are much more successful at keeping weight from creeping back up.
  • Telling yourself “never again” may hamper your success. Rather, try saying “I can later if I want to, but I prefer not to right now.”

Random Useful Gems

  • Harder for addicts to contemplate far in the future. Need to foster this skill. It can improve over time. Have become accustomed to short-term over long-term.
  • People tend to avoid making decisions in order to avoid giving up other options. It can be painful to cut off the other options. This is part of why making decisions depletes willpower.
  • “Beware of making binding decisions when your energy is down, because you’ll tend to favor options with short-term gains and delayed costs.” To compensate, assign extra weight to the long-range consequences of the decision.
  • If struggling to make a decision, eat some protein, wait 30 minutes and then the decision won’t seem so overwhelming.
  • Aiming for huge and quick transformations will backfire if they seem impossible.
  • Effective planning will budget for willpower and how you will spend it.
  • Set a firm time limit for tedious tasks.
  • The Nothing Alternative: if you have a task to complete, schedule it, and decide that during that time you will either work on that task or do absolutely nothing.
  • People assume they’ll magically have more free time in the future than they do today.
  • Reward yourself often for tasks you want to use willpower for. A mix of frequent small prizes with occasional big ones. Emphasize rewards over punishment.


“Temptations are getting more sophisticated, but so are the tools for resisting them.”

Self control helps you savor your time on earth and share joy with the people you love.

“Our willpower has made us the most adaptable creatures on the planet. Willpower is the virtue that sets our species apart, and that makes each one of us strong.”

Want some one on one help in delegating your willpower more effectively? Check out my How to Stop Looking at Porn Program by scheduling a free mini-session with me. What are you waiting for? Click here.

For a free jumpstart on learning the skill of not looking at porn check out my guide:  “How to Stop Looking at Porn.”

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