5 Things you need to know about willpower
Leadership Coach, Front of Room Leader and Systemic Change Guide

Willpower. It’s a finite resource. Every day, you only have so much of it. And it affects your leadership.

When you wake up in the morning after a good night’s sleep, your willpower reservoir is replenished. That’s why you usually don’t crave a cookie or a drink first thing in the morning, no matter whether you feel ready to seize the day or grumpy because you have one of those days ahead of you.

First things first: How does dwindling willpower affect your leadership?

It turns out that when your willpower is run down, you perceive everything around you more intensely. Simple examples are your perceptions during a hot shower or an ice bath. The shower feels hotter and the water colder when your willpower is depleted.

Likewise you’ll find that uncomfortable tasks even more uncomfortable, that challenging colleague even more annoying, and that decision even harder to take.

Willpower depletion leads you to procrastinate more, to react more harshly, and to not do the things you really meant to do.

One obvious tip, then, is: Don’t start your day with checking emails. Instead, get the tasks and conversations most important to you off your to do list so that they don’t nag you all day. By the way, that self-nagging is seriously willpower depleting. How so?

Every decision you make, uses a bit of your willpower

When you tell yourself “I really should do this now”, you’re really asking yourself to make a decision. And every decision we make uses up a bit of our willpower reserve. We make innumerable decisions every day. Let’s go back to emails. Here’s a number of decisions you take with every single email that has landed in your inbox:

  • Shall I open this email?
  • Shall I read it?
  • Shall I answer it?
  • Now or later?

Note, that you haven’t written one word yet, but you’ve already made four decisions. And each and every one of them chips away a bit of your willpower. Chip… chip… chip…

In our world of possibility and choice, willpower depletion is becoming an ever bigger challenge. And limiting choice is not the answer you want to hear, right?

The question really is: How can you prevent willpower depletion?

And the answer is: automatization. You can automatize decisions that matter to you and that you make all the time. Like the route you take to work. Or the sequence of getting up, showering, breakfast and brushing your teeth. The time of day you open your emails or go on social media (arguably your phone is your biggest willpower depleter) If that is the same every day, you take 0% of willpower off your daily account.

The more decisions you turn into habits, the more willpower you preserve for decisions that matter and cannot be automatised. Starting a workout regime takes an enormous amount of willpower. Even just getting up in the morning and putting on your running shoes. Will you get up? Will you sleep 5 minutes longer? Get up? Sleep? … However, when you’ve regularly gone for a run at 6.30 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the past 3 to 6 months, it takes very little willpower to do so. Why? Because it’s no longer a decision you take. It’s become a habit.

But what if you’re at work, and you have to make a really important decision when you know that your willpower is depleted?

First things first: try to avoid that situation as best as you can. Don’t leave such important issues for the end of you day. That’s a really helpful leadership habit for you to build!

Here are just a few things to replenish your willpower reserves.

  • A daytime nap or non-sleep deep rest activity like a Yoga Nidra
  • Meditation (You don’t have to lie on the floor. This could also be a silent walk without your phone or gazing into nature for 10 minutes)
  • Anything that relaxes you
  • A positive social interaction

And to prevent your willpower from seriously crashing, there’s nothing like a good night’s sleep to fill up your reservoir for the next day.

For leadership coaching and developement, get in touch

You might also like…

Making Difficult Conversations Easier
Making Difficult Conversations Easier

I was recently working with a group of Senior Researchers, Post-docs and Laboratory Managers from across Europe. The topic: difficult conversations. A popular topic for leaders, new and well seasoned. What makes a conversation difficult? That’s partially individual,...

Stop Downloading – Start Listening
Stop Downloading – Start Listening

I recently wrote about the challenges that leaders face when attempting to listen generatively. We spend too much time downloading (to reconfirm what we already know, i.e. not really listening) or listening factually (to confirm or disconfirm what you already know,...

Vows and Forgiveness
Vows and Forgiveness

David Whyte’s 1996 poem, All the True Vows, from The House of Belonging, calls us forth into the world. Its first line, “All the true vows are secret vows”, poses an inquiry for leaders: What are the secret vows you have sworn? These vows are no idle covenants. They...

Share This