The Most Important Muscle

The Most Important Muscle

Every Tuesday, my friends and I get together for a philosophy night. We’re not sitting around talking about Aristotle on most days, though; the night is mostly an excuse to discuss a wide array of psychological, philosophical and personal issues. One night, I asked everyone what change they would make to humanity in order to make it better, the idea being that you could change one trait. A lot of ideas were floated around: make us more immune to diseases! Make us more empathic! One of the ideas that struck me most, though, was “give us more willpower”; the ability to see through changes that we know are important. Willpower in this context is motivation and follow-through, and while I don’t have the power to spontaneously increase willpower throughout all humanity, I can make an effort to help you.

The most important thing to keep in mind about willpower is that it works like a muscle: the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. The work-out analogy is excellent, because when we don’t exert our willpower, it becomes weak and tired, and it becomes more difficult to use it for strenuous tasks. That’s where my first tip comes in: when you’re working out your willpower, start small. Just like someone who is learning to lift weights won’t start by benching 300 pounds, you shouldn’t start training your willpower by deciding you must get up at 5 in the morning every morning when you’re having trouble rolling out of bed at 8. Instead, opt to start by getting out of bed once a week at 7:30; slowly, over time, you’ll be able to do this twice a week, then three times, then suddenly, it’s your schedule.

That brings us to my second tip; don’t use willpower to force yourself into unknown territory every time; instead, use it to create habits. In the same way that lifting bigger and bigger weights each workout is a surefire path to burnout, you should use willpower to create a better routine. This routine can then be the bedrock of improvements in your willpower, in the same way a regular workout routine will make you strong enough to lift heavier weights. This Medium article describes habit forming as “the compound interest of self improvement” and recommends you use your willpower to do easy things to start; those things become habit, your will becomes stronger, and you get further along in your goals.

There are a plethora of other tools you can use to increase your willpower. Mantras are a popular one, as are visual aids that remind you of your goals. Some folks find telling others their goals a popular motivator; I find doing so demotivating, so your mileage may vary. When trying to inspire an organization, it can be useful to have someone your members can relate to; someone whose willpower was underutilized at times, but found ways to develop it, and thus develop as a person. Motivational speakers fit the bill, and they can be wonderful to have at organization wide events.