Regenerate Willpower Through Downtime

The myth of the author has him (or her) hunkered down in front of the keyboard, toiling away on the great American novel, working hours on end. A pile of crumpled paper accumulating around the trash can.

The reality is a bit more like Jack Torrance from The Shining. That author, embodied by Jack Nicholson, became so engrossed in his work that he typed the same thing over and over again. And we all know how that story turned out.

An author needs a deep well of willpower to shove aside distractions like Twitter and email and carve out time to write. What few writers realize is that the supply of willpower is not infinite.

A study by Princeton neuroscientist, Dr. Wang, found that willpower can be drained and regenerated. Tasks that require a lot of mental effort, like exercising or paying bills, can leave you drained.

Have you ever sat down to write only to find yourself ready to give up before you even start? The problem might be a sapped willpower.

Dr. Wang illustrated his point with “The Radish Experiment.” A group of college students were presented impossible puzzles to solve. Beforehand, one third were given radishes to eat. The second third were given cookies. The last third were given nothing to eat. The radish group gave up after 8 minutes. The other two groups lasted twice as long. Why? Because eating a cookie, or even eating nothing, required no willpower. They arrived at the puzzles with a fully charged battery.

Apparently, eating radishes eats up a big chunk of your fortitude.

The Oreo Method
Here’s the trick to maximizing your willpower: Oreo. Do some challenging work, then play and relax, and then get back to work. So what this means is that little stint on Twitter you’re beating yourself up about, might actually be beneficial. My favorite willpower rebuilders are my daughter and my dog. Nothing relaxes the mind more than creating a Lego tower or petting a dog with it’s head nested in your lap. As tempting as it is to grab my mobile phone and squeeze a little work in, I resist. I need this downtime to recharge.

If you do plan on an extended writing session, don’t do a mentally taxing activity directly beforehand. And don’t confuse fun with easy. Running or exercise usually requires willpower because you have to get off your ass to make it happen.

Likewise, those so-called guilty pleasures require no willpower to do (on the contrary, they suck up the willpower to stay away). So indulge in a cookie or a little Starbucks. It just might be the boost you need to go that extra mile with your writing.

After all, you don’t want to end up like Jack…

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Tim Kane

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7 comments on “Regenerate Willpower Through Downtime

  1. interesting post – it’s always nice when science backs up [what should be] common sense. on the days when i need to be überproductive, i will be sure to avoid radishes! :]

  2. I love it I have another reason to justify downtime. So, thank you! heeheehee

  3. Rick Gleason says:

    Great advice, no question about it. It works for me! Thank you!

  4. Sydney, you don’t need more downtime. Let’s get cracking… LOL

  5. […] is in fact not infinite in you body. Check out this study involving college students and cookies. Turns out, people are more likely to maintain their […]

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