Book review: Willpower

Choosing to become an unclutterer doesn’t take much effort. You decide you want to get rid of the distractions that get in the way of the life you desire. That aspect of the process is simple — but what comes next isn’t necessarily a walk in the park.

Actually becoming an unclutterer requires a good amount of energy and willpower to purge the distractions, set up working organizing systems, consistently maintaining the order you’ve established, and pursuing the life you desire. It’s not hard, but after a full day at the office and tending to other responsibilities, your energy levels may be spent. It can be more tempting to plop down in front of the television and turn off your brain or to escape into a good book than it is to sort mail, put away folded laundry, file important documents, take a load of your child’s out-grown clothes to charity, and spend quality time with your kids, favorite hobby, or whatever you have deemed truly important to you.

In the recently published book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, authors Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney explore the science behind willpower and self-control. They analyzed findings from hundreds of experiments to see why some people are able to keep their focus and determination for extensive periods of time and others aren’t. Their book also looks at how David Blaine can complete incredible acts of endurance, how to predict which graduate students will become tenured professors, why some anti-smoking and anti-drinking programs are more successful than others, why David Allen’s Getting Things Done method works for so many people, and other case studies that personalize the research. Best of all, they report on proven methods for strengthening these skills, so readers can increase their willpower and self-control.

There is so much valuable information in this book that today will not be the only time I write about it. However, I do want to mention a few of the strategies they provide for increasing your willpower:

  • Physically remove the temptation and/or distraction. For example, if you want to stop watching television during the week, remove the power cord from your television and stick it in a drawer. If you’re tempted to jump on Facebook instead of working on a report, install a program on your computer that bans you from looking at Facebook for a set amount of time or reports to your boss if you’re looking at Facebook. One of the reasons Baumeister and Tierney say AA is effective at getting people to stop drinking is because the attendees are at an AA meeting and not in a bar.
  • Take on a seemingly unrelated improvement in behavior. Working on your posture or using complete sentences every time you speak (“Yes, I would like a drink of milk” instead of “Yep”) will help to increase willpower and self-control in other areas of your life, as well as in the area of your attention.
  • Set routines and stick to them. The book’s authors report that people who floss their teeth every day tend to have more willpower and self-control than those who don’t. Initially “… use your self-control to form a daily habit, and you’ll produce more with less effort in the long run.” Stated another way, start by using your willpower to create positive daily habits and routines. In three to six months, you’ll simply do these regular tasks without much effort and you can use your extra energy on larger tasks that require more self-control. Tasks on auto-pilot don’t use the same stockpile of energy as one’s you have to consciously complete.
  • Surround yourself with people who can help you build your willpower and self-control. This might include getting an accountability partner to help keep you on track when you’re uncluttering or hiring a professional organizer to guide you as you tackle the mess on your desk. If you want to start exercising, it will benefit you to work with a personal trainer or to join an online forum to talk about your progress with other people using the same exercise system. It’s easier to not smoke when you’re surrounded by people who aren’t smoking and it’s easier to be organized when surrounded by people who are organized.

As mentioned previously, this book is stocked with scientific research that provides a wealth of tips and strategies for improving your willpower and self-control. While reading the text, I was constantly amazed by how much of it was directly linked to uncluttered living and creating what the authors call “orderly cues.” To learn this information for yourself, check out Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. Also, continue to check back to our posts as I plan to refer to the text a few more times over the next couple weeks. The section of the book on teaching self-control strategies to children was incredibly helpful and I definitely want to share the information relevant to uncluttering with you all. I highly recommend this book to all of our readers, regardless of where you are on your uncluttering and organizing journey.

10 Comments for “Book review: Willpower”

  1. posted by Jessica @ Faith Permeating Life on

    I haven’t read this book yet, but the part about routines completely matches my experiences this year. I’ve been doing a “happiness project” (based on Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project) and my first month was dedicated to getting in healthy routines like flossing and exercising. I’ve found that by setting and keeping small, regular resolutions, I’ve been able to push myself to follow through with a lot more, because I know I can!

    I will definitely check out this book. Thanks!

  2. posted by Erin on

    Another book you might be interested in is Change Anything; it talks about the factors besides willpower that can affect our success in changing.

  3. posted by Jessica @ Faith Permeating Life on

    Thanks! I will add that to my Want-to-Read list as well!

  4. posted by Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours on

    I’m so glad you found the book so useful that you’ll be talking about it more that once – that’s certainly a great endorsement!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  5. posted by trish on

    Interesting that by working on unrelated things, we can help our willpower in other areas.

    The part about flossing jumped out at me. I floss my teeth regularly, but I’ve never thought of myself as particularly disciplined. That one example has made me look at my motivation differently, specifically, why I’m so motivated to floss my teeth and not, say, file papers away.

  6. posted by Agueda on

    Thank you, Erin, very interesting!

  7. posted by Michael A. Robson on

    Oh, you do book reviews. And how. We should talk. :P

  8. posted by priest's wife on

    I could use some willpower….going to amazon to see if they have it on kindle

  9. posted by Jennifer on

    At the risk of sounding woo-woo, I have made a lot of progress in my life and level of willpower with things like social anxiety, eating snacks, exercising (which is tough for me since I have a muscle wasting problem that makes anything more than walking pretty painful), etc., by learning how to “hypnotize” myself at night before I drop off the sleep.

    I got a book from the library to learn it and basically I listen to a metronome set at 60 bpm for 20 minutes, think how relaxed and peaceful I am feeling, and then imagine myself doing what needs to be done. I am lifting weights and loving it! I am eating edamame and not cupcakes and loving it! I am smiling and saying hello to strangers and loving it!

    It sounds kooky, but it is working for me very well. I feel happier and more in control of my behaviors now. If I feel anxious about something coming up I do my ritual of experiencing it beforehand and having it work out well and can tackle so much more that I used to be able to.

  10. posted by Pat Collins on

    Erin, I save many of your columns and it would be helpful if you would put the main topic in the subject instead of just unclutterer. We already know its you by the address. Then, I would know where to find the one on the book Willpower when I want to refer to it. Just saying it would be helpful.

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