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How to Master your Willpower

The alarm sets off. Beep-beep. You open your eyes to a beautiful Saturday morning. Beep-beep. You’re half-awake. What’s going on? Beep-beep. That wretched alarm. Beep-beep. Groggily, you get out of bed and walk to the alarm. Beep-thunk.

You snooze the alarm, and now you’re here. Awake. You’re standing up, and as the fog in your eyes clear, you see yourself in the face of two options; you could crawl back, cocoon yourself back in those nice, warm, cozy sheets and drift back to sleep, or get dressed, brush your teeth, get to the icy cold surface of your desk and get started on the long tedious hours of work ahead.

Your options are here. Which one do you take? Which one do you end up taking?

…I bet you did. And that’s totally understandable. Honestly, who wants to spend the first hours of the weekend doing work? You’ve had enough of that for the past five days! You don’t want to be at your desk, you want to be in your bed, where you feel warm, happy, comfortable, and as far away from work as possible.

But then the hours fly like mere minutes and all of the sudden, it’s Sunday night. And your work pile is still there, untouched.

As you shuffle through your papers and scramble for the pen, you sternly reproach, “this will not happen again. Things will be different next weekend. I’ll stop procrastinating and get my shit together.”

The following week comes and goes, and it’s Saturday morning again. And you still get back to bed.

We fall victim to this seemingly endless and inescapable loop because we have the motivation, but lack the willpower. Our mindsets are in the right place, but we lack the ability to take initiative, and it’s this that’s responsible for our weekly episodes of late night cramming, our restless sleep hours, our unsatisfactory grades, and unnecessary amounts of stress.

This is one of the largest factors of underachievement. No matter if you had just formulated a groundbreaking discovery in science or an idea that would forever revolutionize the fabrics of society, if you don’t master your willpower and find the strength to follow what you want, you’ll forever live a life of regret and lost opportunities.

And that’s not a pleasant life.

Here are a few tips for you so that you can find the strength to take the steps in reaching your goals, large or small.



(1) Stop making so many decisions.

Firstly, what you must realize is that mental strength, just like your physical strength, is not infinite.

You can easily pick up a 4kg dumbbell and start lifting it up and down, over and over again, but there will be a point where, no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot lift it anymore. Every decision you make is like dumbbell that uses and drains your willpower.

What shirt should I wear today – red or blue? Where should I eat for dinner – American or Indian or Korean? Which underwear should I buy?

The more we find ourselves mulling back and forth over these dilemmas, the more our willpower gets used. And thus, the reason why you lack willpower is, quite literally, because you don’t have enough.

Honestly, it does not matter what shirt you wear, as long as you wear a shirt. It doesn’t matter where you eat for dinner, as long as you eat something. And dammit, just pick any pair of underwear, as long as it’s comfortable and fits you.

So next time you are faced with one of these decisions, flip a coin. Roll a dice. And when you’re online, don’t open more than three tabs on your web browser. Make the decision quickly and move on. You waste less of your willpower and are able to summon your strength on focusing on things that really matter to you.


(2) Small tasks and division

So let’s say you have a research paper due by the end of the month. You know what topic you’ll research on, the sources you must investigate, the evidence you must compile and the reasoning you must provide. You know countless hours will be spent working on the paper, sometimes day in and day out. You know it’s gonna be hell. But the hardest task is not getting the paper finished – it’s getting the paper started. And the larger the assignment is, the more difficult it becomes.

But the good news is – once you get started on a task and make progress, it gets easier. That’s why, for the sake of mastering your willpower and your ability to initiate and endure, it’s important for you to do the easiest tasks first. Any assessment you have that will take less than 10 minutes should be done first.

This is because finishing any assessment instantly removes weight off your shoulders, and you’ll immediately feel gratification and liberty by unburdening yourself. But the reason why it’s better to begin with smaller, easier tasks is that less effort is required and you can get them done quickly, intensifying the feeling of gratitude of getting it done with minimum suffering required. You’ll get your mojo going, and you’ll want to further unburden yourself of your laborious, arduous assignments. You’ll fly through one assignment to another like walking through open doors.

But what if you don’t have any assignment done less than 10 minutes? What if I don’t have any smaller assignments and all I have are research papers and projects? Well, you can still apply the same principles. All you need to do is to divide them all up into smaller individual tasks that should each take around 5-30 minutes to complete. Thinking about large assignments as a whole can be overwhelming and stressful, and, not surprisingly, repel and disgust you. That’s why you don’t do the assignment. It’s so much, and you hate it. But when you divide it into smaller chunks that you’ll have to complete one by one, it’s far less overwhelming. Fighting Bowser may be just as difficult as smashing 200 Goombas, but when you take on the Goombas, it certainly feels easier. Think about stomping the Goombas one after another rather than fighting the big monster all at once.

 (3) Reward yourself

For every task you get through, give yourself a treat. Give yourself some chocolate or an ice cream. Reward yourself for what you have done – this will keep you motivated. If you really like the ice cream, all the better! Do more assignments so you can get that ice cream again! It’s a win-win situation.

Illustration courtesy of Arvik

Now sit down. Stretch your neck, flex your fingers, pump your shoulders, and get started. You won’t enjoy it, but you’ll thank yourself for it.

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Jonathan Qiu
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I'm just another ABC teenager who has stuff to say

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