How many of you out there can be productive when you need to, not be distracted by your phone, sleep for 7–8 hours, and exercise at least 30 minutes a day?
Not many huh? I’m like you too. But I’ve learned some tricks to strengthen my decision making skills and avoid distractions so I can be more productive.
It’s called willpower.
Willpower is the inner strength that enables you to restrain your impulses in order to make decisions on certain actions. A person with a high level of willpower will assert decisions even in the face of strong opposition or contrary desires. A person with weak willpower will cave in easily.
Whenever we try to do something — like eat healthy, be productive, or write more — we often fight against our inner thoughts and use up some of our willpower. If we fight this long enough, we lose the energy needed to do what our mind really wants.
Willpower makes it easy to avoid distractions and get important shit done. Thus, it plays an instrumental part in helping you succeed in different parts of your life.
The key to making that happen is treating willpower like a muscle that gets stronger with training and managing where we direct our energy day to day.
Thanks to stuff like smartphones, fast food, and social media, most of us have become very weak-willed individuals since we’re constantly being stimulated by notifications and instant gratifications.
So when we actually need to do harder stuff like starting a startup, learning how to code, losing 20 lbs of fat, or eating more vegetables — we don’t have enough willpower to push ourselves through the long journey ahead.
But there is a cure. So let’s dig in…
1. Eat healthy
Your brain is one of the most important organs in your body. By treating your body like crap, you are directly neglecting your brain, which leads to weak decision making skills.
There is so much information out there on dieting and staying healthy that it can get pretty overwhelming. I’ve personally been following Tim Ferrriss’ The 4-hour Body. It’s a no BS book that lays out how you should be eating everyday to optimize your body.
It consists of avoiding white carbohydrates like bread, certain pastas, fried foods etc… unless it’s within 1.5 hours of a resistance-training working while eating small balanced meals throughout the day.
Each small meal should consist of a protein (egg white, chicken breast, or organic beef), legumes (lentils, black beans or pinto beans), and vegetables (spinach, asparagus, peas or mixed vegetables).
You should also be drinking massive amounts of water and avoiding sodas, fruit juices, excessive alcohol, and other sugary drinks.
And lastly, take the right supplements. I take calcium, potassium, magnesium, R-Alpha-Lipoic Acid, aged garlic extract, green tea extract and electrolytes daily.
2. Work out
Having an active body leads to an active and sharp brain. For the workplace you should consider getting a standing desk or try to stand up and move around for 1 minute after every hour of sitting down. Apple has executed this well into their watch.
You don’t need to run a triathlon or start bench pressing heavy weights to become physically fit–you just need to be active, and the easiest way to do that is by incorporating different physical activities throughout your day.
Instead of taking the escalator, why not spend an extra 15 minutes taking the stairs?
Or leaving a little early to walk 30 minutes to your destination instead of calling an Uber.
All those burned calories here and there add up.
And if you ever experienced writers block, you’d be amazed at how different you feel after a nice long walk. This man seemed to think it works.
3. Get some real sleep
It’s no longer cool to brag about how little sleep you get and how much work you’re still able to pump out.
Being sleep deprived, which is defined as less than 7–8 hours of sleep–puts you on the same mental functioning level of a drunk (which is someone with literally 0 will power).
There’s even studies that show people who sleep less tend to have a lower median household income! That’s bananas.
So turn off your screens 1 hour before bed, move your TV out of your bedroom, take magnesium and get some shut eye. Even though you might be losing an hour or so from sleeping more, your productivity is vastly increased due to increased willpower.
Meditation helps your mind focus on one singular thing like your breath or your heart beat.
The point is, if you can sit there in complete silence and focus on something like your breath, it will be much easier for you to focus on your work despite all the distractions happening around you.
I was skeptical at first, but it really does work. I make it a point to meditate for a 10–15 minutes as soon as I wake up.
But simply having more willpower isn’t enough.
Reduce your reliance on willpower
If you want to keep growing as an individual, then that growth shouldn’t hit a ceiling when your willpower tank runs empty.
The next phase will is all about how you can use a small portion of willpower during each task, in order to store the rest for later.
1. Break down goals into doable chunks
The idea is you take a large goal and break it down into smaller sizes in order to make it more achievable.
Your willpowers worst enemy is looking at a huge goal you set out for yourself and getting intimidated by scale of achieving. If you say, “I want to make $1,000,000″, that’s a huge goal which could take some people years.
But when you break down your goal into smaller segments like “make an extra $3,000 this month” or “write 100 words of the blog post,” then big projects become easier, fun, and motivating.
Think of it this way — the scarier the project is for you to just get started, the more willpower you’ll need upfront.
Why go through that agony?
Break your goal down into 8–10 “chunks”, apply a timeline, the actions you need to take for each, and commit.
2. Create habits for yourself
Your life today is essentially the sum of all your habits.
What you spend your time thinking about and doing each day forms the person you are today and how you view your world.
For the most part, this is a good thing to know. Imagine whenever you had to take a shower you had to think “Okay, I need to take off my clothes, get in the shower, turn on the water, put shampoo in my hair, rinse it…” you get the picture. We literally wouldn’t have the time to finish the rest of the day.
But as humans, we’re prone to creating bad habits as well. Maybe it’s buying a donut after lunch. Or hitting the snooze button when the alarm goes off. The more we do these things without thinking, the more these actions are set on autopilot.
But what if we reversed that for good habits?
If we did, we would preserve a lot of willpower by doing good productive things without ever having to think about it.
For example, if you commit yourself to wake up every morning, brush your teeth, and go for a run enough times, you eventually won’t have to think about getting yourself to go. Do it for at least 21 days and you’ll automatically program your brain to just wake up and run without wasting any willpower to get yourself out of the house.
So the takeaway is to figure out the things that you do, which require willpower and see if you can automate it by creating a habit.
3. Be positive
Sometimes life happens and you’ll get depressed. It’ll lower your willpower since you’re constantly thinking about the problem.
Chronically stressed people find it difficult to resist temptations which can range from buying a latte to wild shopping sprees.
It’s been proven time and time again that shifting your focus to the positive can dramatically improve happiness and your overall quality of life.
Fortunately, there is a solution backed by science and it involves showing more gratitude daily.
Aim to answer the following questions each morning before even getting out of bed:
What are three things that I am grateful for today?
What would make today great?
What do I take for granted?
What advantages have I been given in life?
I’d highly recommend the 5 minute journal if you really want to make this a habit and don’t have time for traditional journaling. I write in this as soon as I wake up and before I go to sleep.
If you’re ready to start putting some of these things to action, here are some actionable steps to get started:
- Figure out which part of your life needs more willpower and write them down. Is it your weight? Your income? Your sleeping habits? You don’t need to do everything at once.
- Try just 10 minutes of meditation every morning.
- Sleep an hour earlier than usual and don’t use your phone or laptop in bed.
- Write in a journal every morning about what you’re grateful for.
- Set 1 big goal, and create 8–10 smaller tasks to help you achieve it.
- Look for small tasks you do throughout the day that you can practice your willpower on
Raad Ahmed is an internet entrepreneur and storyteller. He is the Founder/CEO of LawTrades and shares his startup lessons learned here. You can also check out his website here. This piece appeared on Medium.