Willpower by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney


“The old advice about eating a good breakfast applies all day long, particularly on days when you’re physically or mentally stressed. If you have a test, an important meeting, or a vital project, don’t take it on without glucose.” – Baumeister and Tierney
This is an interesting thought – I think what they’re trying to say is don’t test your willpower when you’re hungry as you’re more likely to lash out a lot more frustration than if you just had a meal and your stomach is satisfied.


“Exercising self-control in one area seemed to improve all areas of life. They smoked fewer cigarettes and drank less alcohol. They kept their homes cleaner. They washed dishes instead of leaving them stacked in the sink, and did their laundry more often. They procrastinated less.” – Baumeister and Tierney
The idea here is exercising self control on smaller things can really help with your willpower when challenges you care more about are put in question. Right now the hardest self control is getting out of bed at 6 everyday – I’ve probably slept in to 630 – 7 the past week. However, the self control to make time for meditation for 20 minutes has been there ever since I started (3ish months ago).


“If you want to be sure you don’t gamble at a casino, you’re better off staying out of it rather than strolling past the tables and counting on your friends to stop you from placing a bet. Better yet is to put your name on the list of people (maintained by casinos in some states) who are not allowed to collect any money if they place winning bets.” – Baumeister and Tierney
The best example of precommitment is when Cortés set his army’s ships on fire so that they had no other choice but to march on (instead of letting their fear determine control them). I don’t think I have many precommitments in place for my life. However, I do remember creating study schedules during exams which had all the courses laid out in blocks throughout the day. That meant that I had to commit to the schedule otherwise I won’t be able to get them all done before the end of the day (yes, it’s a weak example, but I got nothing else).


“You may not care about whether your bed is made and your desk is clean, but these environmental cues subtly influence your brain and your behavior, making it ultimately less of a strain to maintain self-discipline. Order seems to be contagious.” – Baumeister and Tierney
I’ve never heard this before… I don’t have much to say – I’m not really a neat person (my desk is full of receipts, books, misc items). Regardless, cleaning up is something that needs to be done eventually, so why not do it now? (I’ll clean up after I finish this PN – it takes a shift in concentration to do things effectively)


“Religious meditations often involve explicit and effortful regulation of attention. The beginner’s exercise in Zen meditation is to count one’s breaths up to ten and then do it again, over and over. The mind wanders quite naturally, so bringing it back to focus narrowly on one’s breathing builds mental discipline.” – Baumeister and Tierney
I haven’t looked at meditating as a way to increase willpower before, but now that it’s mentioned in this PN, I realized that it is true – since meditating, I find myself having a much easier time to reconnect with myself instead of always being lost in my own thoughts that don’t get me anywhere. This is especially true when I’m frustrated. Recently when I got frustrated, I was able to see the other side’s viewpoint in a matter of minutes, realized that they were just doing their job, and was able to calm down my breathing. What it would look like in the past would be me going home, still frustrated, and taking it out on the next person I met. Because of meditation, I’ve increased my emotional willpower.


“A simple commitment strategy for avoiding late-night snacking is to brush your teeth early in the evening, while you’re still full from dinner and before the late-night-snacking temptation sets in. Although it won’t physically prevent you from eating, brushing your teeth is such an ingrained pre-bedtime habit that it unconsciously cues you not to eat anymore. On a conscious level, moreover, it makes snacking seem less attractive: You have to balance your greedy impulse for sugar against your lazy impulse to avoid having to brush your teeth again.” – Baumeister and Tierney
I think that’s such a powerful idea, and another one that it reminds me of is when you want to go to the gym in the morning, get a friend to go with you and have them meet you there. That way, when you wake up, instead of instantly snoozing the alarm, a part of your brain will say “get up, so and so is waiting at the gym!”
There have been apps made just for this. One that my friend uses is to eat healthier and to work out more often. When you fail to meet those commitments, it will take money from you. However, if you stay committed, it will give you a small sum. I think she’s made over $50 over 3 months doing that.


“People with good self-control mainly use it not for rescue in emergencies but rather to develop effective habits and routines in school and at work. The results of these habits and routines were demonstrated in yet another recent set of studies, in the United States, showing that people with high self-control consistently report less stress in their lives.” – Baumeister and Tierney
I’d like to think I’m on the offensive instead of the defensive (I probably am since I’m always going after things). That might be a reason why I don’t feel much stress in my life. I can see why if you were defensive – making impulsive decisions all the time, not committing the goals you set for yourself because you’re tired etc – you will get stressed out. So if you’re on the defensive (and be true to yourself – there’s no value to anyone when you lie to yourself about something like this), find ways to start playing more offense!

My Take Aways

At first, I felt like this PN wasn’t going to bring me any value. However, as I read more and more, and realized all these smaller details that I tend to overlook in my life, this PN started to provide me a lot more value. I can’t think of anything that I can immediately take away (besides cleaning this table) without breaking down all the different parts in my life. But there are so many great things to keep in mind when I help others. That said, Willpower is a book that I would like to fully read.

If you felt that parts of this post resonated with you, maybe you should look into Willpower as well. If you’re actually struggling with willpower, I think the first step in taking control would be to read this book. You can get a copy of this book on Amazon through this link here (please note that I will be getting a small amount from Amazon, though it does not affect how much you pay – Amazon just makes less money than if you were to go onto the website yourself). I also suggest you check out the actual Philosopher’s Notes (note they even have courses that consolidate many of the concepts in the books that Brian Joshnson covers and puts them into videos that are really easy to digest). This is the first program that I’ve signed up for and am definitely getting my money’s worth!

What parts of your life do you feel like you have control over? Are there any willpower techniques that you use? What parts of your life do you need help to get control? What techniques do you plan on trying out? Share it here so others can potentially help!

Okay, time to clean my table!


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