Photo: Tresal Photography
Devon Ryan is IEEE-USA’s Young Professionals Voice columnist, and the Young Professionals Representative on the IEEE-USA Board of Directors. Follow him on Twitter @DevonRyanI.
Every day, we have to make decisions that influence our future. From the moment we wake up in the morning, to the moment we decide to go to sleep, we are a byproduct of our past decisions. The most important way to maximize our future success is to initiate action and make sound decisions. Willpower is your muscle for this — the faculty by which a person decides on and initiates action — your “biceps” for making things happen. The key is being conscious of your “willpower muscles” every day. We can’t flex them if we don’t exercise them. So, we must conscientiously take the time to build them up.
The good news is that we are all capable of building willpower. Like anything, building willpower requires an intentional effort every day. Life can throw us curve balls at any time. When your willpower reserve is high, you are better prepared to handle life’s daily challenges.
Fortunately, the more willpower you have built up, the more resilient you are — and will be. It’s like being a cork floating in water. You can hit the cork as hard as you want. The cork will always pop right back up to the top. Be the cork!
When I was in college, I worked as a server and bartender to help make ends meet. I remember being surprised at how callous some customers could be when I was serving them. It’s a difficult industry to work in, it’s true; but ask any experienced server how they can endure such treatment and they will tell you that they just don’t take it personally. As a result, they don’t react. Their willpower muscles are strong. They are like the cork in water.
Here are some ways to exercise your willpower:
Like any muscle, exercising is vital if you want to get in shape. We have to condition ourselves over time to reach optimal results. The hardest part, really, is getting started. Once we get past the first challenge of getting started, we have already made a huge step in the right direction.
Think of it this way: If you decide not to go to the gym today, you are affecting your future self. Which brings me to the next point. Physical exercise and plenty of rest are both key. When you exercise, you have more energy; in turn, you have more willpower. When you exercise, be conscious that you are building your willpower — your mind and body will do the rest.
Small Changes — Big Results
Think of a time you had to say no; either to yourself, or to someone you know. How did you feel? Depends on the gravity of the decision, of course, but sometimes we tend to mull over the choices we make. We frame them a certain way that doesn’t make us feel good. This tendency is because our willpower is low. Instead, we should feel strong about our decisions. We must build up our willpower — one decision at a time!
Start with the small decisions. For example, checking your email and/or Facebook can become impulsive — I know. This impulsiveness erodes your willpower over time, and it leaves you with little to work with mentally.
When it’s primetime, and you need to make decisions, you won’t be operating at your finest; because throughout the day, you diminished your willpower for something as trivial as Facebook. I know it sounds insignificant; but I know every time I decide not to check my email or social media, I’m exercising my willpower muscles. It’s like going to the gym and starting with the small weight; eventually you are going to increase the amount of weight — and you will get stronger.
As I get stronger, deciding to avoid checking email and Facebook does, in fact, become trivial; and as a result, I can exercise my willpower on more significant matters. The key is being conscious when making those small choices. Then, you can move on to bigger, more challenging decisions…
I challenge you to exercise your willpower muscles. Life throws us curveballs at any given moment. Whether or not your life seems pretty stable right now, I know one thing for certain: big decisions lie ahead. Are your willpower muscles ready for the challenge?
Challenge yourself to make the best choices—every day. That, alone, takes willpower.