My Willpower is a Mighty Beast, Hear it Roar

Today is a momentous day. Today is the start of a new era. Today is a day of willpower. This Monday, the twentieth of August, two thousand twelve, I write to you from my couch, having woken up at 7:00 in the morning, which, as many of my readers know, is a big deal for me, because I hate waking up early. But that’s only a fraction of the reason why today is important. In fact, it’s exactly one thirteenth of the reason today is a big deal. Today is a big deal, because I intend to get up this early for the next two weeks. Yeah, I know: CRAZY.

It’s not because of school, or work, or travel, but because I want to. That’s right, for the next two weeks, starting today, I’m going to pry myself out of bed at 7am every morning, peel open my eyelids, scavenge the fridge for some breakfast, and start my day early by choice. Why, you ask? I’ll tell you why: discipline.

It has occurred to me that I go way too easy on myself, especially when it comes to things like getting up early, watching TV, or putting off work. I let myself get away with way too much, and I’m going to change that. I read a book recently called Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney, which explains that (according to some recent psychological research*,) willpower behaves like a muscle, in that it can be depleted by overuse, it can be strengthened, and it is sustained by food. Although the idea of a “Discipline Week,” had occurred to me in the past as a way to boost and hone my willpower, it never occurred to me to think of willpower as a muscle. If you’re curious about the concept, I recommend reading the book; it’s very interesting.

So willpower is like a muscle: what does that have to do with getting up early? Well, getting up early for the two weeks before I start school does three important things for me. First, doing things that test your willpower (like getting up early) on a regular basis, and turning them into habits, is how you strengthen your willpower. Stronger willpower means it’s easier for me to make myself study, which means better grades, and higher satisfaction with my studies. Second, it will help dissolve the stigma that has developed in my mind about getting up early. I waste a lot of time complaining about getting up early, and it’s time I got over it. Getting up early isn’t so bad, and I plan to show that to myself. Just because you wake up early every day doesn’t mean you’ve given yourself over to the soulless, monotonous existence of bad coffee and boring meetings that I seem to associate with early risers. Finally (and more practically,) waking up early gives me more time during the day to get things done. Rather than having loads of free time at night, I can have more free time during the daylight hours when I can go do stuff instead of watching TV.

Getting out of bed at 7am is only part of the plan though. In addition to waking up early, I’ve also set the following goals for myself:

  • Check my blood sugar more regularly
  • Spend more time on projects
  • Run every morning (next week only)
  • Drink tea in the morning instead of coffee**
  • Blog every day
  • Eat more legumes and vegetables, and less white carbs

Wait, what’s that? Blog every day? Damn right. Not only am I going to increase my discipline with a herculean feat of willpower, I’m going to chronicle my journey on my blog. This will likely not continue past the two weeks, but I do hope to blog more regularly during the year. My writing has become rusty, and I can feel it; I need practice.

It’s important that running in the morning starts next week only. Running in the morning will represent a huge change in my daily routine, and I’ve decided to wait to implement that change so I’m straining my willpower gradually. If willpower behaves like a muscle, then an immediate, all-out burst of willpower will likely deplete it, which is not how I want to start the semester.

So that’s the plan, and I’ll keep you up to date every step of the way***. The point of this exercise isn’t that I have weak willpower; in fact, my willpower is quite strong at times. The point is that I want my willpower to be even stronger than it already is. My gusto tends to putter out toward the end of the semester, and I’m sick and tired of it. I’m tired of getting fed up with studying and homework, and I’m finally going to do something about it. This is not an idle cry of frustration as I plunge into the depths of a viscous circle of things gone by, this is an ultimatum: things are going to change. Now.

*Research or not, the point is that the ideas presented in this book make sense.

**I have no problem with coffee, but coffee first thing in the morning tends to make me groggy for the rest of the day. It’s weird, I know, but that’s what happens, so I’m going save coffee consumption for later in the day.

***I promise I’ll blog about interesting things, and not just my attempt at increasing willpower.

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