Willpower- You Have It

If you think you are unable to do something, it’s almost a sure bet that you won’t do it.

In a recent New York Times article by Stanford professor Greg Walton, he demonstrates the differences in behaviors between people who believe willpower is a finite resource, and those who are able to dig down and find more ways to get something done.

I subscribe to the latter- although there are numerous instances of me faltering, flailing and failing.

I’m horrified to admit to you that I. with my reasonably functioning , otherwise rational brain,  have battled cigarettes my whole life. I quit, I start, I stop, I lurch two steps forward, one step back. I’m currently on the wagon- digging deep, looking for resources to stay on it.

There’s plenty more.

I’m behind on the final chapters of my book.

I have some company paperwork to do, and I’m lagging.

I have syllabi that needs to be edited and polished. I have 17 days remaining to do it, and do it right.

You and I are looking at a to-do list that seems intractable. Take all of the things we’d like to do, add the things we want to do, and then toss in the checklist of things that have to get done today, and we have before us a mountain of projects that seem impossible to completely accomplish.

Many of us default to accomplishing the most urgent tasks, being satisfied that we made it through the day, and spending idle time wishing, hoping, dreaming…

I have learned that it is absolutely impossible to keep a calendar in your head. I’ll suggest a system that I invented for me, a system that will get the things I want to do started…and finished.

The System of Three.

3 works for me. 1-2-3; A-B-C.  We like this simple sequence. It’s simple to understand, short enough to finish, and easily juggled.

I need to do three things today. One is critical, one is important, one is fantasy.

The critical meeting this morning will be attended. One.

The blog will get updated. Two.

I will spend 10 minutes on the fantasy. I will glue my butt to a chair, look at the clock, and promise to spend 10 minutes researching.


Here’s what happens: I allot 10 minutes, and frequently, when I look up at the clock, an hour has elapsed.

If I only slogged through ten measly minutes, I still accomplished the items on my calendar. I did not fail. I did what I said I was going to do.

You can’t keep a task list in your head. When I have students lagging in submitting homework or falling behind on their final projects, I demand they email me a list of three things they need to do every day.

I then urge them to make a post-it note, a Google doc- whatever they need to use to SEE the three things. I tell them to incorporate these three things into a paper or online calendar that sends them reminders of when the three things are due.

I have seen some amazing improvements in not only the timeliness of their homework, but the quality has also shown marked improvement.

I struggle and procrastinate all the time. You do too.  There will be days when you fail.  It’s okay. Forgive yourself, get back on the horse, and ride again.

Constant micro-victories sometimes can snowball into behaviors that allow you to juggle life, children, career,and your dreams. These manageable little wins remove guilt, reduce regret and guilt, and give you permission to perform one of the most deliriously fun tasks of all:


To do nothing, even for a few minutes, without guilt, is one of the most incredible vacations you can give your head. The liberation of guilt-free nothingness, expressed in lingering in bed for a few minutes, watching bad reality TV, or taking a walk around the block, can lower stress levels and give you the little burst of fuel in the tank to get back out there and do your work.

The System of Three is showing signs of success today.

I’m about to hit <Publish>.

Only two more to go…

Your Thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.