So i’m listening to the will powerbook by baumeister and tierney very nice read, it has stuff about david blaine holding his breath, ego depletion, stanly and livingston in africa, so it’s fun.

But there is one thing I learned about this book, I think it’s the key to the whole book.

1) Ego depletion.  Ego is used for everything.  It is used to decide whether or not to eat a cupcake.  It is used to decide which socks to wear in the morning.  It is used to decide to exercise, to go out, to decide whether you want to drink or abstain, it is used for everything.  And if you use up you willpower (or ego) in order to do one thing, it is gone until it is replenished.  Which leads to some really odd counter intuitive results.  So for instance if you walk past a cupcake shop and look at the cupcakes, look at them, resist getting one, resist for another 5 seconds, and then finally you give in and have one (or not give in, all that matter is you used will power), then at work, if you see your cute co-worker, because your willpower has been depleted you might sleep with him or her, and wreck your marriage of 20 years.  Why?  Because you depleted your willpower on a cupcake.  Sounds weird, but that will power is drawn from the same source, it doesn’t matter how important it is, or how trivial, will power is depleted with every decision you make.

2) Routine habits do not deplete willpower.  So for instance, suppose you have a rule that you eat exactly one cupcake on Monday when you walk by the cupcake shop and never at any other time.  Then when you walk by the cupcake shop, you resist but it doesn’t deplete your ego and willpower.  Or if you make it a rule to do your dishes every day at the exact same time, it doesn’t deplete the ego to do the dishes.  Very odd.

So it seems that it doesn’t really matter how your organize your life, it can be by the most absurd rules, but what is important is if you create habits, and do them on routine day after day, you willpower will never be depleted and it means you can get ahead in life.

So instead of saying “I’m a writer, I need to write,” if instead you set a time of day to write, so that you write every single day, it becomes a habit and relatively easy to do.  But if you say to yourself “I need to write more” then it becomes an impossible task, because every thing that happens in your day, from a traffic jam to having to watch your mouth when you speak the boss, it all adds up and depletes your willpower, so that there is no ego left to “write more”.

Or to diet.  If your diet is “eat less” it is impossible for more than one reason.  Instead of making rules of which foods you can eat and which foods you can’t eat, you have created a situation where every single piece of food you see is a temptation and it gnaws down your willpower, hour by hour, until finally, inevitably your willpower is entirely gone, and that is when the “diet is blown” and you gorge.

There’s also a section in this book about how procrastination being about “perfectionism” is completely wrong, and that this initial idea by psychologists was caused by flawed studies.  Procrastination is more about impulse control, about will power, than perfectionism.

There are also constant references to David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” which I love because I tried really hard to get into the GTD system and failed abysmally, and this book, “Willpower” finally gave me some understanding about how GTD works, because David Allen has a somewhat flawed idea of how the mind works, and yes Allen’s system works, but it’s not generic, it doesn’t work for me.

Even if I never improve my life with this book, at least I feel like I have a better understanding about how well organized people get ahead.