Learning and Willpower

Learning and WillpowerI love learning. I’ve always loved learning. And so I was frustrated with myself when time and time again, I would sign up for various online classes (paid or free), watch one or two video lectures, then give up on the classes because I never had the time or energy to complete them.

I couldn’t understand why I was never able to stick to my personal learning goals, whereas I was super disciplined at work and a productive, high-achieving employee.

It was all a mystery to me, until I read about willpower and how it works. It turns out that we only have a finite store of willpower each day. We start out in the morning, (hopefully) refreshed from a good night’s sleep. But every decision we make, no matter how big or small, contributes to depleting our mental energy throughout the day, so that by the end of the day we are often completely drained and suffer from “decision fatigue“.

This decision fatigue makes us much more likely to make bad decisions – such as skipping our workout at the gym or eating junk food for dinner – because our mental capacity is simply too depleted to make any more important decisions. We just go with what’s fastest and easiest.

This knowledge completely transformed my learning process. I finally understood that I needed focus on my most important work early in the day, when my willpower and energy were at their strongest.

This was a huge issue for me because I am not a morning person. At all. And I really, really dreaded the thought of having to wake up earlier.

But when upon further reflection, I dreaded the thought of not following through on my learning goals even more. I truly wanted to be a life-long learner.

So I made the decision to start waking up an hour earlier each morning (I went from 7 am to 6 am). I’d take a shower and quickly get ready, then head downtown to a coffee shop where I could focus on my personal development for an hour before heading to my pesky day job each day.

I have to say, implementing this new habit has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made toward improving my life. Since making the switch from evenings to mornings, I’ve been able to complete numerous classes on subjects as diverse as sketching, social psychology, happiness, behavioural economics, the French Revolution, emotional intelligence, business, and more. If I have to skip a day, I honestly feel a bit lost – that’s when you know you’ve built a strong habit!

When most individuals or most companies are talking about trying to create healthy habits, the key is to identify which habit or habits seem most important.

Charles Duhigg

If you’re struggling with implementing a goal, try focusing on your goal earlier in the day (ideally in the morning) and see if it helps. I’d love to hear your stories (good and bad) on this topic!

In my next post, I’ll talk about my path to becoming an early riser.

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One thought on “Learning and Willpower

  1. Pingback: Wakey Wakey, Sleepyhead! | Papermusings

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