Tag Archives: Willpower

Use “Bright-Line” Rules to Better Manage Your Willpower

Use "Bright-Line" Rules to Better Manage Your Willpower

In the spring of 1966, a man named Ernesto Miranda was arrested in Phoenix. The police had very little to go on, but they suspected Miranda of kidnapping and raping an 18-year-old woman ten days earlier. The officers interrogated Miranda for two hours and were rewarded for their effort: Miranda admitted to the rape charge and signed a confession paper. There was just one problem. During the interrogation, Miranda had been alone and at no point was he informed that he had the right to legal counsel.

This post originally appeared on James Clear’s blog.

When the case went to trial, Miranda’s written confession was used as evidence. He was quickly convicted, but his lawyer appealed because Miranda had never been informed of his rights and thus, according to his lawyer, the confession was not voluntary. The Arizona Supreme Court upheld the decision, but eventually the case made it to the United States Supreme Court.

The United States Supreme Court overturned the Miranda ruling by a vote of 5 to 4 because “The person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he has the right to remain silent, and that anything he says will be used against him in court; he must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation, and that, if he is indigent, a lawyer will be appointed to represent him.”

The Supreme Court had just created a bright-line rule.

The Power of Bright-Line Rules

A bright-line rule refers to a clearly defined rule or standard. It is a rule with clear interpretation and very little wiggle room. It establishes a bright line for what the rule is saying and what it is not saying.

The Miranda ruling is one example. If a police officer fails to inform a defendant in custody of their rights, then the suspect’s statements are not admissible in court. Plain and simple. Clear and bright.

Most of us, myself included, could benefit from setting brighter lines in our personal and professional lives. Consider some common examples:

  • We might say that we want to check email less frequently.
  • We might say that we want to drink moderately.
  • We might say that we want to save more for retirement.
  • We might say that we want to eat healthier.

But what do these statements really mean?

  • What does it mean to check email less frequently? Are you going to “try to be better about it” and hope that works? Will you set specific days or certain times when you will be unavailable? Will you check email on weekends? Will you process email only on your computer?
  • What, exactly, is moderate drinking? Is it one drink per week? Five drinks per week? Ten drinks per week? We haven’t defined it, so how will we know if we are making progress?
  • What does it mean to save more? More is not a number. How much is more? When will you save? Every month? Every paycheck?
  • What does eating healthier look like on a daily basis? Does that mean you eat more servings of vegetables? If so, how many more? Do you want to start by eating a healthy meal once per day? Twice per day? Every meal?

It can be easy to make promises like this to yourself, but they do not create bright lines. Fuzzy statements make progress hard to measure, and the things we measure are the things we improve.

Now, do we need to measure every area of our lives? Of course not. But if something is important to you, then you should establish a bright line for it. Consider the following alternatives:

  • I only process email between 11AM and 6PM.
  • I enjoy a maximum of two drinks per night.
  • I save $500 per month for retirement.
  • I eat at least two types of vegetables per day.

These statements establish bright lines. These statements make action steps precise and obvious. Vague promises will never lead to clear results.

Using Bright Lines to Break Bad Habits

The examples I outlined above focused primarily on building new behaviors, but bright-line rules can be used just as effectively to break bad habits or eliminate old behaviors.

My friend Nir Eyal proposes a similar strategy that he calls “Progressive Extremism.” To explain the concept, Nir uses the example of being a vegetarian. If you were interested in becoming a vegetarian, you might start by saying, “I don’t eat red meat.” The goal is not to change everything at once, but to take a very clear and extreme stand in one small area. You are establishing a bright line on that topic.

Over time, you can progressively move your bright line forward and add other behaviors to the mix. (i.e. “I don’t eat red meat or fish.” And so on.)

How Bright Lines Unleash Your Hidden Willpower

Establishing bright lines in your life can provide a huge boost in daily willpower.

Here are two reasons why:

First, bright lines shift the conversation in your head from one of sacrifice to one of empowerment. When you don’t have a bright line established and you choose not to do something, the tendency is to say, “Oh, I can’t do it this time.” Conversely, when you do have a bright line clearly set, your response can simply be, “No thanks, I don’t do that.” Bright lines help you avoid making just-this-once exceptions. Instead, you are following a new identity that you have created for yourself.

Second, by establishing clear decisions in your life, you conserve willpower for other important choices. Here’s the problem with trying to make daily decisions in muddy water: Without bright lines, you must decide whether a situation fits your standards every time. With bright lines, the decision is made ahead of time. Because of this, you are less likely to suffer from decision fatigue and more likely to have willpower left over for work, relationships, and other health habits.

How to Declutter Your Mind and Unleash Your Willpower by Using “Bright-Line” Rules | James Clear


James Clear writes about the science of human behavior and how to build better habits. Thousands of people have attended his online seminars on Habits, Willpower, and Procrastination. Image by Pan JJ (Shutterstock).

Can Kitchen Clutter Influence Your Appetite?

Can Kitchen Clutter Influence Your Appetite?

It’s not just your mindset that can shape your eating habits. Your environment plays a role, too. And in the case of your kitchen, a pile of dirty dishes just might influence you in ways you don’t realize.

This post originally appeared on The Conversation.

Anyone who has ever tried to cut back on sweets has probably heard that all it takes is “mind over matter.”

But new research by Lenny Vartanian of UNSW Australia and Kristin Kernan and Brian Wansink of Cornell University is shedding light on the way your mindset interacts with your environment to influence eating behavior–specifically, unhealthy snacking.

Want Some Leftovers? How Your Environment Influences Your Self-Control

The work of Vartanian and his colleagues builds on a body of evidence suggesting that stressful experiences can impact health-related behaviors, from eating to exercise.

It also loops in the idea that your state of mind influences your behavior at any given moment. For example, a 2011 study published in the British Journal of Social Psychology showed how thinking about your friends and family can reduce aggressive behavior after you’ve been rejected by romantic partner or fired from a job. And self-affirmations, which involve writing about your most important values, can mitigate the negative effects of threatening or stressful situations.

Combining two distinct theories of behavior, Vartanian and his colleagues then reveal the unique ways in which one’s individual mindset interacts with the world to help or hinder healthy eating.

In their study, the researchers asked 100 female students to taste and rate cookies, crackers and carrots, which is what participants thought the real experiment was about: taste ratings. However, the real experiment started when experimenters then invited the participants to help themselves to leftovers.

The events leading up to this snack session varied widely. Participants were either exposed to a chaotic kitchen–filled with papers, pots and pans, along with noisy disruptions–or a clean, calm and orderly kitchen.

In these varied kitchen environments, participants were also primed to have one of three mindsets. Some were told to write about a time when they felt particularly overwhelmed. Others described an instance when they felt composed. Finally, the control group simply wrote about the last lecture they attended.

So, who ate the most? Perhaps not surprisingly, women who were primed to feel out of control–and who were in the chaotic kitchen–ate significantly more cookies than the other subjects.

However, in all the other conditions, the results didn’t differ in any significant way. For example, in the orderly kitchen, women who wrote about feeling out of control didn’t eat significantly more cookies than those who were primed to feel in control.

Environment and Willpower

These results suggest an interesting and unique interaction–it was only the combination of feeling out of control and being in the chaotic environment that led to higher cookie consumption. While further studies are needed to confirm these findings, these results suggest that feeling in control could buffer against the effects of a chaotic environment, while having an orderly environment could buffer against the effects of feeling out of control.

It’s also noteworthy that neither the kitchen condition nor the mindset priming had any effect on consumption of crackers or carrots. This suggests that perhaps it’s only our unhealthy cravings that are susceptible to the combined influence of mindset and environment.

Other health behaviors might also be susceptible to the dual forces of mindset and environment. For example, when we come home from work exhausted and intend to go running, but really don’t feel like it, a sunny afternoon might motivate us to put on our sneakers and go anyway, while less optimal weather conditions might give us the excuse we need to stay on the couch.

The results of this study are certainly compelling. But as someone who studies mindsets, I thought there were some areas for further inquiry.

The authors use a self-regulation model of willpower to explain their results. This model says that willpower is a limited resource, and that stress drains our limited willpower, leaving us with less willpower to use in other areas of our lives. However, other research suggests that, in reality, it is our beliefs about whether or not willpower is a limited resource that determines whether it is, in fact, prone to being depleted. Those who believe that willpower is abundant exhibit higher levels of self-control–even when stressed out.

The authors also indicate that a limitation of this study was the lack of a specific measure to confirm mindset after priming. Without such an assessment, we cannot be certain that this experiment truly induced in-control or out-of-control mindsets, although past research on priming would suggest that Vartanian and his colleagues’ study design should have been effective in at least priming feelings of being in control or being out of control.

However, compared to feelings, mindsets are generally viewed as more persistent over time. It’s unclear whether this study truly induced a new mindset, or simply primed participants into a particular–but fleeting–frame of reference, one that could disappear quickly after the conclusion of the experiment.

So while past research suggests that chaotic environments might be a risk factor for making unhealthy choices, the findings of Vartanian and his colleagues add to this work by showing how mindsets can act as a buffer or enabler.

What does this mean for those of us trying to eat fewer cookies and less ice cream? When we feel the urge to satisfy our sweet tooth, it might be in our best interest to think back to times we felt particularly in control. And it also wouldn’t hurt to take care of that pile of dirty dishes in the sink.

Curbing Cravings: Can Kitchen Chaos Influence Cookie Consumption? | The Conversation


Kari Leibowitz is a Ph.D. candidate in Psychology at Stanford University. Image by Elvetica (Shutterstock).

Cultivate Mental Toughness With the Navy SEAL’s “40 Percent Rule”

Cultivate Mental Toughness With the Navy SEAL's "40 Percent Rule"

Developing mental toughness isn’t just about being resilient. It’s also about learning to access your reserve tank when you think you just can’t go any further.

We all think we know our limits. Whether you’re exercising, studying, or just trying to break a bad habit, there’s always that moment when you feel like tapping out. To get past that point, Jesse Itzler at Big Think explains a perspective-altering rule he learned from a Navy SEAL who came to live with for a month:

He would say that when your mind is telling you you’re done, you’re really only 40 percent done. And he had a motto: If it doesn’t suck, we don’t do it. And that was his way of every day forcing us to get uncomfortable to figure out what our baseline was and what our comfort level was and just turning it upside down. We all have that will. It’s just a matter of how we apply it not just to the once-a-year marathon, but to a variety of things in our daily lives.

You are more capable than you realize, but you have to fight off the mental blocks you’ve established over the years. You can run farther, you can learn more, and you can resist your vices longer. The next time you feel like giving up, remember, you’ve still got 60 percent left.

http://lifehacker.com/how-and-why-to…

Navy SEALs Have a ‘40 Percent Rule’ and It’s the Key to Overcoming Mental Barriers | Big Think via Inc.

Photo by Jim Swinson.

Just Because an App is Popular Doesn’t Mean It’s Good

Just Because an App is Popular Doesn’t Mean It’s Good

Some apps are popular because they’re useful or solve a problem. Others are popular because they’re the Kardashians of apps: they’re famous for being famous. Everyone else is using them, or because they have a big budget and “growth hackers” on staff tasked with building mind share for their company. Before you sign up, pay money, or give your data away, let’s make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.

Why is Slack, the team-focused chat app, so popular that it has multiple op-eds about how it’s “killing email”, when it’s really just (let’s be honest) a glorified and less-geeky form of IRC? What possibly possesses people to continue using Snapchat, even though the company doesn’t give a crap about your security, and the whole service is just glorified MMS—which is already built into your phone? What encourages app developers to keep cranking out leaky, poorly-crafted “self-destructing message” apps even though as a category, they claim to be “just for fun” but market themselves with security and privacy promises they have no intention to keep?http://lifehacker.com/whats-the-deal…

Well, the answer is actually simple: The tech industry has a pretty well-defined formula for success: Churn out an app, go into debt to venture capitalists eager to get in on the next big “whatever eventually sells to Yahoo or Google,” and start collecting users (and their precious data) like candy in a bucket on halloween night. Once you do all of those things, start again from the first one and repeat the process. Sounds shitty, right? Yeah—but it’s a well defined process. Here’s how it works.

Get There First, or Get Famous for Being Famous

A lot of these apps wind up becoming popular because they’re the default option. You know these ones—they came first. They really only exist because “everyone’s using them,” and not because they’re particularly novel or different than something already available. Yelp is a great example here: Yelp has more than a few problems, and if you ask people about it, they’ll usually tell you some variation on “yeah that company can be shady sometimes.” And yet, we all check Yelp reviews before we try a new place, anyway, because…well, who else are we going to check?

This usually happens when someone comes first in their market or because they strike the public consciousness in a way that makes people flock to them—and once that process begins, more and more people join the flock, to the point where you can’t choose another option because no one’s using the other options. Uber is a great example here. Uber has serious issues, from enough sexual assaults and incidents that a whole webpage is dedicated to tracking them to super-shady “dogpile your critics when they even so much as mention you might want to give your drivers background checks” tactics. Even so, Uber is still your best option for reliable, not extortion-level, non-shady transportation in my area at least, and I’m willing to bet it’s one of the best in yours too. Uber’s a juggernaut, too big to fail for no other reason than it’s “disruptive,” which is code for “it had a good idea and got to market first.”

Of course, popularity isn’t always bad. Popular services generally scale to keep up with the growing needs of their users. In general, where the people go is where the money, attention, and development effort also goes. When users cry out for a company to fix problems like, let’s say, drivers assaulting passengers in their cars, ideally the company will do something about it. If an app has instant popularity, especially if it requires others to use it to be useful (like Waze or WhatsApp, for example,) this is great news. It means that not only are the people behind the app (hopefully) paying attention to what their users need, but you’ll actually reap real benefits if you sign up.

But this is a double-edged sword. We often (too often) hear about new apps that promise to make it easier to message friends, sell your stuff, meet people, or do other things that only work if people are already using the app. Every week we hear about some new “self-destructing message” app like we mentioned above. When those services are new, no one’s using them, so they’re useless. You would sign up and be the only one of your friends there, or try to sell your stuff but no one’s there to buy. Unfortunately, they’ll never be useful if you don’t stick around, but you have no incentive to wait or spam your friends to get them to join. You can see the catch-22.

A lot of great ideas die that way. Instead, a lot of mediocre ideas stick around in their place because they got there first, and now “everyone’s using it”. You can think of a few biggies here: Paypal and Facebook come to mind.

Use Semi-Shady Marketing to Keep Everyone Talking About You

We can think of more than a few super-popular apps that grew not because they were specifically good, but because they had a name behind them. These are the startups where “founded by X, who founded [completely other company everyone knows]” is at the top of every article about them. The ones rising to prominence on name, and on the promise that some visionary who started a company everyone knows is about to strike again with their next big, world-changing idea. The problem is that’s usually bullshit, and just a way to get eyeballs on their press releases and blog posts.

Slack, for example, is the darling of the tech world right now. It even has one of Flickr’s co-founders behind it. Is it special? Not really. It’s a solid chat app, and it’s pretty, but it isn’t as groundbreaking as it would have you believe. It’s by no means the first tool to let people talk in chat rooms dressed up with GIFs and attached files. It’s not even that different than HipChat, TeamChat, or even IRC, all of which came long before it. Sure, we use it here at Lifehacker to communicate, but its success, aside from a modern design, comes largely from making sure that it stays in the public consciousness with big, bombastic claims that it’s a “work social network” and will “kill email.” We all know that’s not true, but it won’t stop the hot takes from filling up tech blogs anyway.

Other services just manage to buy the mindshare required to make sure everyone knows its name. Flood the news with press releases, raise a ton of investment money, and do a little “content marketing” (essentially writing your own press and convincing people to run it for you.) If you’re one of the newest breed of startups, just hire some “growth hackers,” whose job it is to do big social media and mailing campaigns so everyone’s talking about you. Make tiny, iterative updates to bring in as many new users as possible. Maybe generate some controversy by talking about how you’re going to “revolutionize” something everyone uses, or how you’re “the Uber/Netflix/Facebook/Yelp of [insert category.]” That’ll get people on board. Of course, it also helps to give away your product for free without disclosing what it’ll really cost the people who use it.

A lot of these tactics are “inside baseball” to media types, but you can see the problem. This is the kind of thing that behind the scenes, industry people deal with every day when they sift through their inboxes, but at the end of the day, these services need you to sign up, and blogs need you to read, so the cycle continues. It’s bullshit, but there it is. Careful where you click.

None of this Is Inherently Bad, It’s Just Stupid

Look, idealistically no one would use an app if it didn’t provide them some benefit. We’re not just talking about “productive” apps either. There’s just as much “benefit” from an app that keeps you entertained during your free time as in one that makes sure leave home in time to make an important meeting at work. That said, you have to decide what “real benefit” means to you before you sign up or install.http://lifehacker.com/5932142/avoid-…

This may seem like common sense, but it’s tougher than you might think. Take a look at your phone. How many apps do you have installed that you haven’t used in the past 30 days? How about ever? Do the same for your computer. Odds are you (like most of us) jump on apps and services that promise a more productive, more fulfilled life. Of course, we’ve discussed the pitfalls of that kind of thinking several times, and how it lures us into spending more time “optimizing” our lives than living them. The goal of “productivity” should generally be to help you do what you have to, so you have time for what you want to do, right? Next time, before you sign up for a new service that promises to “kill email” or “revolutionize the way you communicate,” ask yourself this: “will signing up for this service/app/tool enrich my life in a positive way?”http://lifehacker.com/5828033/how-to…

If you can answer yes to that question, as in “yes, this is fun and helps me de-stress” or “yes, this makes my commute less boring,” or “yes, this teaches me something I’ve want to know,” then you can walk in understanding that your choice is your own and not driven by someone’s sleazy marketing or a poorly written article on some press release-regurgitating tech blog. Remembering to do this every now and again makes sure you’re directing your energy (and your all-too limited willpower) towards things that really matter, at least to you personally.http://lifehacker.com/5802572/how-se…

Just Because an App Is Popular Doesn’t Mean It’s Good

Just Because an App Is Popular Doesn’t Mean It’s Good

Some apps are popular because they’re useful or solve a problem. Others are popular because they’re the Kardashians of apps: they’re famous for being famous. Everyone else is using them, or because they have a big budget and “growth hackers” on staff tasked with building mind share for their company. Before you sign up, pay money, or give your data away, let’s make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.

Why is Slack, the team-focused chat app, so popular that it has multiple op-eds about how it’s “killing email”, when it’s really just (let’s be honest) a glorified and less-geeky form of IRC? What possibly possesses people to continue using Snapchat, even though the company doesn’t give a crap about your security, and the whole service is just glorified MMS—which is already built into your phone? What encourages app developers to keep cranking out leaky, poorly-crafted “self-destructing message” apps even though as a category, they claim to be “just for fun” but market themselves with security and privacy promises they have no intention to keep?http://lifehacker.com/whats-the-deal…

Well, the answer is actually simple: The tech industry has a pretty well-defined formula for success: Churn out an app, go into debt to venture capitalists eager to get in on the next big “whatever eventually sells to Yahoo or Google,” and start collecting users (and their precious data) like candy in a bucket on halloween night. Once you do all of those things, start again from the first one and repeat the process. Sounds shitty, right? Yeah—but it’s a well defined process. Here’s how it works.

Get There First, or Get Famous for Being Famous

A lot of these apps wind up becoming popular because they’re the default option. You know these ones—they came first. They really only exist because “everyone’s using them,” and not because they’re particularly novel or different than something already available. Yelp is a great example here: Yelp has more than a few problems, and if you ask people about it, they’ll usually tell you some variation on “yeah that company can be shady sometimes.” And yet, we all check Yelp reviews before we try a new place, anyway, because…well, who else are we going to check?

This usually happens when someone comes first in their market or because they strike the public consciousness in a way that makes people flock to them—and once that process begins, more and more people join the flock, to the point where you can’t choose another option because no one’s using the other options. Uber is a great example here. Uber has serious issues, from enough sexual assaults and incidents that a whole webpage is dedicated to tracking them to super-shady “dogpile your critics when they even so much as mention you might want to give your drivers background checks” tactics. Even so, Uber is still your best option for reliable, not extortion-level, non-shady transportation in my area at least, and I’m willing to bet it’s one of the best in yours too. Uber’s a juggernaut, too big to fail for no other reason than it’s “disruptive,” which is code for “it had a good idea and got to market first.”

Of course, popularity isn’t always bad. Popular services generally scale to keep up with the growing needs of their users. In general, where the people go is where the money, attention, and development effort also goes. When users cry out for a company to fix problems like, let’s say, drivers assaulting passengers in their cars, ideally the company will do something about it. If an app has instant popularity, especially if it requires others to use it to be useful (like Waze or WhatsApp, for example,) this is great news. It means that not only are the people behind the app (hopefully) paying attention to what their users need, but you’ll actually reap real benefits if you sign up.

But this is a double-edged sword. We often (too often) hear about new apps that promise to make it easier to message friends, sell your stuff, meet people, or do other things that only work if people are already using the app. Every week we hear about some new “self-destructing message” app like we mentioned above. When those services are new, no one’s using them, so they’re useless. You would sign up and be the only one of your friends there, or try to sell your stuff but no one’s there to buy. Unfortunately, they’ll never be useful if you don’t stick around, but you have no incentive to wait or spam your friends to get them to join. You can see the catch-22.

A lot of great ideas die that way. Instead, a lot of mediocre ideas stick around in their place because they got there first, and now “everyone’s using it”. You can think of a few biggies here: Paypal and Facebook come to mind.

Use Semi-Shady Marketing to Keep Everyone Talking About You

We can think of more than a few super-popular apps that grew not because they were specifically good, but because they had a name behind them. These are the startups where “founded by X, who founded [completely other company everyone knows]” is at the top of every article about them. The ones rising to prominence on name, and on the promise that some visionary who started a company everyone knows is about to strike again with their next big, world-changing idea. The problem is that’s usually bullshit, and just a way to get eyeballs on their press releases and blog posts.

Slack, for example, is the darling of the tech world right now. It even has one of Flickr’s co-founders behind it. Is it special? Not really. It’s a solid chat app, and it’s pretty, but it isn’t as groundbreaking as it would have you believe. It’s by no means the first tool to let people talk in chat rooms dressed up with GIFs and attached files. It’s not even that different than HipChat, TeamChat, or even IRC, all of which came long before it. Sure, we use it here at Lifehacker to communicate, but its success, aside from a modern design, comes largely from making sure that it stays in the public consciousness with big, bombastic claims that it’s a “work social network” and will “kill email.” We all know that’s not true, but it won’t stop the hot takes from filling up tech blogs anyway.

Other services just manage to buy the mindshare required to make sure everyone knows its name. Flood the news with press releases, raise a ton of investment money, and do a little “content marketing” (essentially writing your own press and convincing people to run it for you.) If you’re one of the newest breed of startups, just hire some “growth hackers,” whose job it is to do big social media and mailing campaigns so everyone’s talking about you. Make tiny, iterative updates to bring in as many new users as possible. Maybe generate some controversy by talking about how you’re going to “revolutionize” something everyone uses, or how you’re “the Uber/Netflix/Facebook/Yelp of [insert category.]” That’ll get people on board. Of course, it also helps to give away your product for free without disclosing what it’ll really cost the people who use it.

A lot of these tactics are “inside baseball” to media types, but you can see the problem. This is the kind of thing that behind the scenes, industry people deal with every day when they sift through their inboxes, but at the end of the day, these services need you to sign up, and blogs need you to read, so the cycle continues. It’s bullshit, but there it is. Careful where you click.

None of this Is Inherently Bad, It’s Just Stupid

Look, idealistically no one would use an app if it didn’t provide them some benefit. We’re not just talking about “productive” apps either. There’s just as much “benefit” from an app that keeps you entertained during your free time as in one that makes sure leave home in time to make an important meeting at work. That said, you have to decide what “real benefit” means to you before you sign up or install.http://lifehacker.com/5932142/avoid-…

This may seem like common sense, but it’s tougher than you might think. Take a look at your phone. How many apps do you have installed that you haven’t used in the past 30 days? How about ever? Do the same for your computer. Odds are you (like most of us) jump on apps and services that promise a more productive, more fulfilled life. Of course, we’ve discussed the pitfalls of that kind of thinking several times, and how it lures us into spending more time “optimizing” our lives than living them. The goal of “productivity” should generally be to help you do what you have to, so you have time for what you want to do, right? Next time, before you sign up for a new service that promises to “kill email” or “revolutionize the way you communicate,” ask yourself this: “will signing up for this service/app/tool enrich my life in a positive way?”http://lifehacker.com/5828033/how-to…

If you can answer yes to that question, as in “yes, this is fun and helps me de-stress” or “yes, this makes my commute less boring,” or “yes, this teaches me something I’ve want to know,” then you can walk in understanding that your choice is your own and not driven by someone’s sleazy marketing or a poorly written article on some press release-regurgitating tech blog. Remembering to do this every now and again makes sure you’re directing your energy (and your all-too limited willpower) towards things that really matter, at least to you personally.http://lifehacker.com/5802572/how-se…

Thursday Might Be the Best Day to Start New Habits

Thursday Might Be the Best Day to Start New Habits

Starting new habits is all about finding momentum and keeping it up. Thursday might be the perfect day for that.

The best time to start a new habit is as soon as you have the drive, but finding that drive doesn’t come as easy to some. That’s why Laura Vanderkam at Fast Company suggests you shoot for starting new habits on Thursdays:

The workweek tends to be slowing down by then… Fewer things are starting up, so you can concentrate your energy and focus on your new routine. You take your lunchtime walk with fewer competing priorities. Friday lets you repeat the routine, reinforcing it, again with few distractions. Then over the weekend, you can evaluate (or keep going if you intend to).

Plus, when you have a bunch of new things coming at you in the beginning of the week, your habit isn’t one of them. It’s not new because you’ve been doing it for several days now. By the time Monday rolls around, that habit has started to stick and become something you just do. Of course, if you don’t work a normal Monday-Friday workweek, just start with whatever your version of Thursday is. Getting started is always the hardest part, so why not give yourself the best odds possible? http://lifehacker.com/what-it-takes-…

Why Thursday Is the Best Day to Start a New Habit | Fast Company

Photo by Dino Quinzani.

Dilbert’s Scott Adams on Willpower: Have Systems, Not Goals

Dilbert's Scott Adams on Willpower: Have Systems, Not Goals

We tend to look at willpower as this magical force inside of us that we either have or we don’t. In a recent interview, Scott Adams—Dilbert creator and frequent advice giver—explains that willpower is actually a finite resource, and there’s a way to get what you need done without draining it all.

In the interview, with John Boitnott at Inc., Adams describes goals as a mental lock that sets you up for failure. You put the goal up on a pedestal in your mind and you either achieve it or you don’t, and Adams suggests implementing systems instead:

"If your goal is to lose ten pounds, you may wake up each day with failure in mind because the goal is hard to reach, and you are only progressing by small amounts. It takes up all your willpower. I recommend that instead of a goal you have a system. Willpower is a finite resource. Don’t pick a model that has failure built into it and requires you constantly drain a finite resource."

To implement a system that would go along with the weight loss example, you could spend time educating yourself about healthy food choices and exercise, focusing on the knowledge you need to form a good habit. Don’t rely on willpower alone to get where you want to be. Eventually it will run out and you’ll be back at square one.

Dilbert’s Scott Adams on Why It’s Better to Have a System Than a Goal | Inc.

Photo by Felix Manuel Cobos Sanchez.

Master Self-Control by Thinking of Urges as a Passing Wave

Master Self-Control by Thinking of Urges as a Passing Wave

Developing self control is not always easy to do, especially when you’re trying to change a habit you’ve developed over time. To help fight your desire and stay the course, think of desire as a wave that builds and eventually passes by.

If you’re trying to cut back on something—or stop all together—passing on the chance to indulge once doesn’t win you the war, just the battle. Travis Bradberry at Inc. suggests giving yourself some time to ride the wave out before you cave in:

Desire has a strong tendency to ebb and flow like the tide. When the impulse you need to control is strong, waiting out this wave of desire is usually enough to keep yourself in control. The rule of thumb here is to wait at least 10 minutes before succumbing to temptation. You’ll often find that the great wave of desire is now little more than a ripple that you have the power to step right over.

Take a deep breath and let that dangerous wave pass. Distract yourself with something you enjoy that won’t affect you negatively. Sometimes one wipe-out can undo all the hard work and time you’ve already put in. Willpower can be hard to manipulate in your favor, but with the right mindset and a little determination, you can brave the deep waters of unwanted desire.

The 6 Secrets to Conquering Self-Control | Inc.

Photo by Richard Freeman.

Use If-Then Statements to Exert Better Self-Control

Use If-Then Statements to Exert Better Self-Control

Self-control is hard to learn. Keeping yourself on task, forming a habit, or even just avoiding certain foods sometimes feels impossible. Over on The New York Times, author Pamela Druckerman suggests using if-then statements to reign things in.

The idea here is pretty simple:

He explains that there are two warring parts of the brain: a hot part demanding immediate gratification (the limbic system), and a cool, goal-oriented part (the prefrontal cortex). The secret of self-control, he says, is to train the prefrontal cortex to kick in first.

To do this, use specific if-then plans, like "If it’s before noon, I won’t check email" or "If I feel angry, I will count backward from 10." Done repeatedly, this buys a few seconds to at least consider your options. The point isn’t to be robotic and never eat chocolate mousse again. It’s to summon self-control when you want it, and be able to carry out long-term plans.

It’s all about boosting your willpower in the end, but it’s easy to lose sight of what you want along the way.

Learning How to Exert Self-Control | The New York Times

Photo by Paul Keller.

The Best Time of Day for Creative Thinking

The Best Time of Day for Creative Thinking

What does your ideal day look like? Would you believe there’s a scientifically correct answer to the question Research into the human body—its hormone allotment, its rhythms, and its tendencies—has found that there are certain times of day when the body is just better at performing certain activities.

Eat breakfast no later than 8:00am. Exercise between 3:00pm and 6:00pm. Read Twitter from 8:00 to 9:00am (your fellow tweeters are more upbeat in the morning). Turns out our optimal times for performing a large number of tasks are best left up to science. If breakfast can be black-and-white, does that mean writing and creativity can be, too?

The Best Time to Write Is Early in the Morning

Your experience with writing may contradict this morning advice, and I hear you. The consensus on a single best writing time is very much up in the air. There is still a lot we don’t know about body rhythms and the writing process. But we can make some projections based on what we do know.

We Know That Willpower Is a Finite Resource

A large body of research suggests that we have a limited reserve of willpower, and once it’s gone, it’s gone. Researchers test this by asking participants to perform a difficult, draining task followed by a second difficult, draining task and then compare these results to a control group that got to skip the first and only perform the second. A popular method is to start participants with a Stroop test like the one pictured below:

The Best Time of Day for Creative Thinking

You must identify the color of the word, not the word itself, and your speed is timed on a computer. The second part of the experiment asks participants to hold a coiled handgrip. Consistently, the control group outperforms the others, leading researchers to believe that willpower can become drained .

Naturally, willpower is beneficial to the writing process, especially for those days when we’re just not in the mood to write. Mornings, then, make the most sense since willpower can be sapped throughout the day by any number of different stressors—work, school, kids, chores, etc.

We Know That the Creative Mind Rises Early and the Editing Mind Sleeps In

Bouts of creative writing might be easier to come by just after waking as this is the time of day when the prefrontal cortex is most active. A scientific study of brain circuits confirmed that this creative activity is highest during and immediately after sleep, while the analytical parts of the brain (the editing and proofreading parts) become more active as the day goes on. The study looked at morning and evening MRI scans and observed that mornings showed more connections in the brain—a key element to the creative process.

The Best Time of Day for Creative Thinking

Together, these insights into willpower and creativity hint that mornings may be the best time of day to write—any time from as soon as you wake until the daily tasks of your workday begin. However, the morning write time is far from set in stone, as you’ll read below.

The Best Time to Get Ideas is Right After Waking

Ever notice how you get some really stellar ideas while showering? As mentioned above, creativity peaks in the morning as the creative connections in our brains are most active. If you believe that creativity is your best source for ideation, then the early morning should be your best time for new thoughts.

The greatest evidence for this effect is with dreams. Science has told us that creativity is a function of connections between many different networks throughout the brain. With that in mind, consider this observation from Tom Stafford, writing for the BBC:

An interesting aspect of the dream world: the creation of connections between things that didn’t seem connected before. When you think about it, this isn’t too unlike a description of what creative people do in their work—connecting ideas and concepts that nobody thought to connect before in a way that appears to make sense.

Try This: Ideas When You’re at Your Groggiest

If early morning idea sessions aren’t your cup of tea, you might be interested in a study from Mareike Wietha and Rose Zacks that found creative ideas often come at our least optimal times.

Their experiment measured insight ability and analytic ability, two components to the creative idea process. Participants identified themselves as either morning people or evening people and underwent a series of tests at different times of day. The tests for analytic ability revealed no significant findings, but for insight ability, the results were telling:

What Wieth and Zacks found was that strong morning-types were better at solving the more mysterious insight problems in the evening, when they apparently weren’t at their best.

Exactly the same pattern, but in reverse, was seen for people who felt their brightest in the evening: they performed better on the insight task when they were unfocused in the morning.

The theory goes that as our minds tire at our suboptimal times then our focus broadens. We are able to see more opportunities and make connections with an open mind. When we are working in our ideal time of day, our mind’s focus is honed to a far greater degree, potentially limiting our creative options.

The Importance of Routine: Larks vs. Owls

If a morning writing session sounds insane to you, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Morning larks and night owls have very different perspectives on the best time of day to get work done, including optimal writing times. These differences have been evident for ages.

Charles Dickens was a lark. He finished his writing by 2:00pm each day. Robert Frost was just about getting started at 2:00pm and would often be writing late into the night (and waking up the next day around noon). What each of these famous authors lacked in synchronicity they made up for in routine. Their daily schedule of writing was set to the same time every day, even though the exact time was different for each writer.

It is possible, then, that the most important time of day for writing and ideas is the same time of day you always write and come up with ideas. Routines and habits could trump the clock. In fact, the brain appreciates these habits. Routine reinforces neural circuitry, and the more you work at the same routine, the stronger those connections become.

Author Amy Brann describes exactly how this added brain activity can be boosted:

Neurons will automatically be drawn to electrochemical activity. This means the more you can light up a new circuit the stronger it will become. The brain doesn’t distinguish between real or imagined thoughts when you’re lighting up circuits, so mentally rehearsing the new desired behaviour will help strengthen the neural circuit without actually performing the action.

Turns out, creating a consistent writing routine and idea habit could be just as good as searching for the best time of day. If your habitual time don’t sync with the advice above, at least be sure that your writing and brainstorming happen consistently.

The Best Time to Write and Get Ideas, According to Science | Buffer


Kevan Lee is a content crafter at Buffer. You can find him online, tweeting about his writing process, or at home, second-guessing football coaches. Live simply, give generously, beat cancer.

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