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More tactics to aid willpower

Strategies and goals

There’s something in the blogosphere this week that is getting people to post about their strategies for making motivation easier. A post today at Capitalism Magazine came to my attention, in which writer Jean Moroney talks about her strategies for clearing the path to good choices.

Moroney starts the piece off by saying “I think willpower draws on a kind of reservoir of emotional energy. Because it is so important to be able to call on willpower when I need it, I do several things to conserve that energy by reducing how often I need willpower.”

Moroney’s tactics are interesting and worth sharing, but her idea that willpower needs to be conserved is only half right. From a physiological perspective, we do indeed have limited resources we can plow into changing habits on a daily basis: see my post “Self-Control Fatigue” for more on this.

But it’s true as well that we can improve our willpower across the board by exercising it regularly. In other words, if we avoid situations where we need to use willpower, we’re lowering the level of willpower we have available to apply to other problems in the future. There’s more on this in my article “How to Strengthen Willpower Through Practice” .

None of this undermines the value of Ms. Moroney’s resourceful ideas, but it does suggest that we’re best off when we strike a balance of making it easier to make good choices on the one hand and finding challenges for our willpower on the other.

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