1. “So do you have a bunch more willpower now?”
No. Reading about willpower doesn’t give you more of it. In fact, one of the first facts about willpower that emerges is that you have a certain amount of willpower on a given day with maybe a reserve for special occasions, but once you burn through that, you’re in trouble until you recharge with sleep and glucose.
I am much better at budgeting my willpower though. I recognize that all sorts of tasks from online shopping for frames to deciding what to cook for dinner to refraining from screaming at my kids (in public) to practicing singing to not eating the red flannel hash until 5 pm all draw from the same semi-fixed pool of willpower. I’ve done better at prioritizing.
I am much more in tune with myself as well. I pay closer attention to the volume of my emotional responses and the ease or trouble I have making decisions.
And I do have some more willpower. I have been following the book’s advice to chose one exercise to strengthen the willpower muscle and focus on that. I’ve been taking my 10,000 steps almost daily, with a few glaring down days where I let the battery run out or left the Fitbit watch off.
2. “Does it tell you how to lose weight? Is it a diet book?”
No. In fact, the diet chapter is tucked away in the end and can be pretty disheartening. Unfortunately, dieting which often means restricting your food intake and consequently the glucose in your bloodstream depletes the very resource, willpower, which you need to keep dieting. Catch 22. The research definitely gives you some ideas of what will work best (monitoring, social support, replacement habits, eschewing all temptation, pre-commitment), but on the whole, the research doesn’t support the long-term efficacy of traditional restriction, i.e. willpower depleting, diets.
3. “What was the most unexpected thing you learned?”
The tendency for people in a willpower depleted state to choose the default position or make no decision at all is staggering. Consider one of the studies that tracked parole board decisions. Prisoners who came before the board early int he morning were paroled 65 percent of the time, but that rate dropped off to about 15 percent before the judges’ midmorning snack. After a sandwich and piece of fruit at 10:30, the parole board’s rate of parole shot back up to 65 percent. the same thing happened at lunch. Prisoners appearing at 12:30pm just before the lunch break were paroled 20 percent of the time. The prisoners lucky enough to come after the lunch break over a 60 percent chance of being paroled. The judges weren’t necessarily hangry (hungry/angry), but rather decision making depeleted and therefore apt to choose the default, or rather postpone making a decision until the next time the prisoner came up for parole.
This is why I will never again schedule anything that taxes other people’s decision making power (like auditions, doctor’s appointments, design consultations) right before lunch. Forget it. Adults have more self-control than children generally, but their goodness, niceness and fairness doesn’t make them immune to the effects of willpower depletion. The book has made me more understanding toward myself, my kids, and the people I work with.
4. “So we’re all just slaves to the chemicals that make up our bodies?”
Doesn’t this start to sound as outlandish as the Twinkie defense? His diet was so poor that it made him a murderer. PMS-related willpower depletion is to blame for an embezzlement scandal. Weeks of sleep-deprivation turned a good family guy into a cheater. In some sense, yes. It is genuinely harder to make good choices and stick to important ethical commitments when you are willpower depleted, but knowledge makes you accountable for managing your willpower. Yes, you have less control over your actions when you’re depleted, but well before that you’re still on the hook for making sure you’re in a fit state to be a responsible adult.
5. “What have you done differently?”
Lots of things! And I will keep reporting on them. In addition to the Fitbit watches that take the guess work out of how many calories I’m burning (and by “guess work” I mean “opportunity to fictionalize”), I just bought a Fitbit scale that wirelessly syncs to my account and tracks my weight online. Daily monitoring is critical, and with this scale Kent and I can no longer hide behind ignorance.
Peppers loved to weigh himself on the old scale and announce, “I’m four, one, six pennies!” (41.6lbs). This weekend he got on the Fitbit scale and proclaimed with much satisfaction:
“I’m zero, eff, eff pennies.”