I can’t precisely recall when it first came to my attention; the subject of willpower. Science is always looking for answers and one answer it was seeking was the one to the question, “Is willpower limitless?” This question entails if people can persevere on willpower alone for unlimited amounts of time. It implies that willpower is infinite.
Yet various studies suggested that this is not the case. The first was carried out by Roy Baumeister who asked his subjects to eat either radishes or delicious, tempting cookies and then to complete a puzzle. After his experiments, many more followed. From the studies conducted, the scientists concluded that willpower is not limitless.
The drainage of willpower (dubbed ‘ego depletion’ by some) means that you will steadily grow fatigued if you have to use willpower to either resist things or push yourself to do things you do not like. I have personally noticed physical tiredness after a long day of activities that I did not fancy. It drained my willpower to remain dedicated to them and made me tired. There was no energy retrieved from this.
Then what are we to do? We live in a society where human beings are pushed to follow certain obligations and hold certain responsibilities. These activities can be tedious and we may only commit to them if we push ourselves through willpower. Although willpower can be very powerful at the start, it can easily lose its ground.
It’s common for students to start out a schoolyear with a lot of motivation but as the schoolyear drags on, they lose a lot of this initial motivation. This is likely due to ego depletion. They are losing the willpower to study or do their homework and simply end up dragging themselves along and tiring themselves out.
Another example comes from my personal life. Several years ago, I was in an honest and committed relationship with someone I held quite dear. There was not a shard of doubt in my mind that he felt the same about me as well. He would mention it to me now and then or he would make it obvious through other means.
At one point, I wanted to become a bit more serious with him and take certain steps towards that end. He seemed however reluctant for certain reasons. So it ended up being only me who kept trying and compromising. No matter how much one loves another, even here willpower to commit can run out. Therefore, persons that tell you they will be with you through sheer persistence might want to rethink their love declaration…
You could also think of a tedious project at a job or a paper that is due for a certain class. Towards the end, the person involved might become more tired and annoyed by the subject matter because they have run out of willpower and have hit a wall.
I know it all comes off a bit depressing now after all the sad stories, but I assure you that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Below I will mention a few tips on how you can restore ego and remain balanced.
- Routine – While willpower can be depleted, routine is something that is hard to change once adopted. It takes only a month to incorporate a routine. If you want to walk a certain distance every day or exercise, you will need discipline to start out these changes. This discipline will drag you through the first month. Once this month passes, it will become easier to perform the tasks you want to complete.
- Obtain balance – In order to cope with the activities you enjoy less, you need to perform actions that will grant you energy. Various professionals have stated that partaking in enjoyable activities has many positive effects. I’ll also tell you, as a former social work student that people dedicated to make you feel happy (social workers and psychologists) will always ask about what activities give you energy and will then suggest you do them more frequently. This subject too can be incorporated into a routine if you do not wish to overdo it. You can limit yourself by setting a certain timeframe.
- Rewards – Consider rewarding yourself for jobs that you did well. For example, when I study, I tell myself to read a certain section and summarize it. If I complete this, I am allowed to eat a cookie/snack and drink something I enjoy (like chocolate milk).
- Take time off – No one can continue running forever. Every human being needs a break now and then. Consider taking a day off in between your busy schedule to simple cater to your own needs and desires. On this day, you shouldn’t fret about life or its components. On this day, all you need to worry about is feeling comfortable where you are and with what you’re doing. This will greatly help replenish your ego.
In conclusion, you must try to find what resonates with you best. Some methods might be more effective for one person than for another. I am not very keen on routine so that is not something I’d consider.
Something I found helpful was getting other people involved. This is something I’ve done for a writing project. It’s a long story and though I like to write, it’s easy to get lost in the length of the project itself and the tediousness of rewriting (the less fun and less easy part). When I tell other people about what I am doing and get them interested, it motivates me more to actually write the story so I can present it to the curious eyes that are waiting.
What methods do you use to stay motivated?