"The Willpower Instinct", Ch. 3


Hi folks! This is your “The Willpower Instinct” Chapter 3 thread!

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“Willpower level” and different food types seems like a good thing to start tracking / being more aware about.

Also, in regards to the “I want” part of the book’s concept, Beeminder’s “fine print” field can be used to write down why are into the trouble of having this goal, what it means to you and others around you, etc.


I forgot we’re supposed to pace ourselves and finished chapter 4.
It comes back to the morality issue and thinking ourselves as trying to not be “bad”. Instead it suggests to instead consider who we want to be.
Framing this in relation to Beeminder, the centerline is not there to remind you that you’re being bad and are about to derail. Or that you’ve been so good, have 7 days of leeway and thus are allowed to slack off and do what you really like. Instead you should focus on what your goal is and why you have this goal.

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I seem to be running a week behind, but I’ll be setting up the Chapter 4 post today. (and posting in here as well…)

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It may just be me being optimistic, but I do like how hesitant some of the ego depletion stuff is in this chapter.

“So assuming you have the resources to walk around the block without collapsing, the absolute demands of self-control couldn’t possibly deplete your entire body’s store of energy. And surely it wouldn’t require refueling with a sugar-laden 100-calorie drink.”

I appreciate the “it is not your brain running out of energy that is then recharged by a sugary snack”.

“Other studies have found that committing to any small, consistent act of self-control—improving your posture, squeezing a handgrip every day to exhaustion, cutting back on sweets, and keeping track of your spending—can increase overall willpower.”

This is so true for me!

I like the idea of “training the willpower muscle” from the perspective of success spirals. I learned about these from Nick Winter, who wrote a book “The Motivation Hacker” which I have suggested for a future book club. There’s a Beeminder blog on them as well: Spiraling into Control, but I also suggest reading the book itself.

It’s the habit of noticing what you are about to do, and choosing to do the more difficult thing instead of the easiest. Through each of these willpower exercises, the brain gets used to pausing before acting. The triviality of the assignments may even help this process. The tasks are challenging, but they’re not overwhelming. And while the self-restraints require careful attention, they’re unlikely to trigger strong feelings of deprivation.

This echos my experience.

The brain, sensing an increased heart rate and rapidly depleting energy supply, literally puts the brakes on the body. At the same time, the brain creates an overwhelming feeling of fatigue that has little to do with the muscles’ capacity to keep working. As Noakes puts it, “Fatigue should no longer be considered a physical event but rather a sensation or emotion.” Most of us interpret exhaustion as an objective indicator that we cannot continue.

Me learning to interpret the first signs of hunger as something beside “it’s time to eat right now” led to one of the greatest successes of my adult life, and I love the idea that it’s a bit generalizable.


At first, I was kind of meh about this chapter. But then my daughter was born four days ago and I’m plunged back into the sleepless madness of having a newborn! So now the discussion of fatigue and how athletes can train to push past it is helping me rally to clean a little, proactively prep food, etc. instead of immediately collapsing into a puddle when I get a quiet moment.



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