“Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of.”
C.S. Lewis (Author, The Abolition of Man)
“Our bodies are our gardens to the which our wills are gardeners.”
William Shakespeare (Poet and Playwrite, Richard III)
“You decide your own level of involvement.”
Chuck Palahniuk (Author, Fight Club)
“Finishing your thesis will take a year.”
This is what another graduate student said to me one night.
I couldn’t imagine working on one paper for a year.
That’s what a thesis was—one really long paper you had to write to get your doctorate.
Some students spent several years writing their papers.
Years, I had.
Patience, I didn’t have.
I couldn’t stand the idea of sitting still for hours on end to write up a long, boring document with a bunch of scientific jargon.
So I avoided it.
I waited and waited and waited until I was just a few months away from graduating.
Now I had to start writing.
The only problem was that I kept falling asleep every time I sat down to write.
I struggled to get down more than a few sentences a day.
I would write sporadically whenever I had time, or I would write late at night after working for my boss all day.
After months of doing this, I got fed up.
What was I doing wrong?
I asked an older friend who was a professor for help and he told me to explain my writing process.
After I told him how I was writing, he shook his head and said…
“Here’s what you do…
First thing in the morning, right after you wake up and eat breakfast, take your computer and your notes to the library, lock yourself in one of the study rooms, write for 5 hours, and be done.
Don’t write any more after that because it will all be crap.
Do that every day in the exact same way and you’ll be finished in two weeks.”
I thought he was nuts.
There’s no way I could finish my paper in two weeks, especially after hearing countless stories of other students taking a year or more.
But I gave it a shot.
I finished my entire thesis in 13 days.
Without knowing it at the time, I did a few key things that helped me to stop wasting my willpower and start being more focused and productive.
Why Your Brain Power Depends On Willpower
You can’t increase brain power, you can only protect it.
Brain power, or mental energy, depends on willpower, which is your ability to control your own behavior.
Willpower can be thought of as a kind of instinctual override, a way to interrupt your brain’s automatic processing in order to do something else.
If you’re hungry and come upon a table of free donuts, the primitive part of your brain will process the event and say, “EAT!”
But the more advanced decision-making part of your brain will tell you to keep walking and not take the bait.
Willpower is simply your ability to inhibit your brain’s natural inclinations.
It’s your ability to make good decisions.
The problem is you only have a set amount of willpower each day, and even the smallest amounts of mental strain will reduce this amount.
A study published by the Journal of Personality shows that each person has his or her own individual willpower limit and this limit is depleted by mental strain.
This mental strain can come in the form of extreme emotional stress or in the form of making simple decisions.
Experiments published in Motivation Science show that making decisions leads to reduced self-control, including reduced physical stamina, reduced persistence in the face of failure, more procrastination, and less quality and quantity of arithmetic calculations.
Making decisions depletes more mental energy than merely deliberating or implementing choices made by someone else.
In other words, your willpower consists of a set number of decision-making units and once these units are used up, you’re weaker in every way.
Without these decision-making units, you cannot make good decisions, focus, concentrate, and produce.
5 Mistakes To Avoid To Improve Brain Power
Mental energy is your most important asset.
Not time—hours don’t matter when your brain is incapable of making good decisions.
If you’ve ever sat in front of the TV for 30 minutes to watch something you’ve seen before because you’re tired, you know time is not your most valuable asset.
Money is not—dollars can’t buy you clarity or stamina.
If you’ve ever bought anything beyond food, water, shelter or your other basic needs, you know money is not your most valuable asset.
The problem is that too many people are oblivious to the fact that their mental energy levels are finite.
As soon as you wake up, your willpower and decision-making abilities start to decline.
The only way to conserve your willpower and prevent decision fatigue is to reduce the amount of mental strain you experience each day.
Instead, you must start conserving your brain power by aligning everything around you with the positive results you want to achieve.
Here are 5 techniques for improving brain power and avoiding decision fatigue…
1. Associating with the wrong people.
The stress caused by dealing with a negative person will not only reduce your brain power, it will literally destroy your brain.
Listening to negativity for just 30 minutes starts to peel away neurons in your hippocampus, the part of your brain responsible for problem solving.
A study reported in The Journal of Neuroscience shows that this neuron-peeling effect is caused by glucocorticoids released from adrenal glands during the stress of dealing with negativity.
The more negative people you allow into your life, the worse off you are in every way.
You’ll make worse decisions due to mental strain and damage your hippocampus.
Your mirror neurons will cause you to copy their poor behavior.
You’ll become more depressed and anxious.
On and on.
The only way to prevent this is to actively cut negative people out of your life and instead associate with positive, like-minded people.
You are the average of the half dozen people you hang out with the most.
Start boosting your average by creating small tribes, or mastermind groups that enhance your perspective, keep you focused, and motivate you.
All your mastermind group needs to make you more successful are two things—a shared interest and a way to communicate.
The key is to surround yourself with like-minded people who push you outside of your comfort zone.
People who want to better themselves but have strengths and perspectives that you lack.
Don’t merely surround yourself with “yes men” or losers who make you look good.
If you’re the smartest or most successful person in your tribe, it’s time to get some new members.
2. Not grouping pursuits.
Every pursuit you engage in should benefit at least one other pursuit.
Your pursuits should also be tied together, one after another, like pearls on a string.
The closer the pearls are together, the more productive you will be and the more willpower you will conserve.
If you’re trying to write your first book, don’t spend 30 minutes researching references in the morning, an hour writing before lunch, an hour writing after lunch, and a few minutes editing at night.
Instead, group all of these related pursuits together.
Write for two hours, edit what you wrote, and find references immediately afterwards.
You can apply this group technique to any pursuit, whether it’s starting a business or renovating a house.
The key is applying your skills, methods, resources, and time to as many pursuits as possible and compressing all of these pursuits into the smallest block of time possible.
3. Never stacking habits.
When mice are first put into a cheese maze, their brain activity is robust and intense.
The mice sniff and claw the walls, analyzing every part of the maze as they race through it to find the cheese at the end.
But when the mice are put in the same maze day and after day, they find the cheese faster but their overall brain activity decreases.
Why does this happen?
The mice have ritualized the process of finding the cheese. They’ve formed a habit.
Studies presented in Nature Reviews Neuroscience show that when you create a habit, a tiny part of your brain, called the basal ganglia, takes over a series of actions so that you no longer have to actively concentrate or make decisions.
In this way, your brain conserves mental energy.
Habits are what allow you to tie your shoe, brush you teeth, or even drive home from work without thinking about it.
These little habits rely on triggers, routines, and rewards.
You create a habit at will by setting a strong trigger for a routine and then rewarding yourself for the completion of the routine over and over again.
The best triggers for new habits are old habits.
It’s far more effective, for example, to get in the habit of exercising right after waking up (trigger) or right after getting home from work (trigger).
It’s also easiest to remember to take a new supplement or medication right after eating breakfast (trigger) or right after brushing your teeth (trigger).
Waking up, getting home from work, eating breakfast, and brushing your teeth are habits you’ve had for years.
By stacking new habits on top of these current habits, the new habits are much more likely to stick.
4. Refusing to improve your environment.
Control your environment or it will control you.
Your external environment can crush your hopes and dreams.
If you have a sweet tooth and are trying to lose weight, don’t keep a pint of ice-cream in your house.
It’s much easier to say “no” to a pint of ice-cream if you never see one — out of site, out of mind.
By keeping temptations and negative influences (including negative people) out of sight, you take away the need to make a good decision.
As a result, you conserve your brainpower and avoid decision fatigue.
Similarly, you can save mental energy by adjusting your environment in expectation of future demands.
For example, if your goal is to work out every morning, you can lay out your gym clothes the night before.
By doing this, you take away the decision of what to wear and what to do when you wake up.
Restructure your environment so it fits with your goals, not your vices.
5. Not expecting positive results.
Expecting positive results conserves mental energy and improves performance.
Other studies published in Motivation Science that anticipating decisions as enjoyable reduces the energy draining effect of the decisions.
In other words, you can protect your brain power simply by looking forward to a decision and expecting it to pay off.
Positive expectancy not only conserves brain power, it also boosts performance.
This is known as the Pygmalion effect.
The Pygmalion effect is a phenomenon where the greater the expectation placed on a person, the better he or she performs.
In a famous experiment in the 1960’s, researchers gave every student in a single California elementary school a disguised IQ test without disclosing the scores to the school’s teachers.
The teachers were told that some of their students (about 20% of the school chosen at random) could be expected to be “spurters” that year, doing better than expected in comparison to their classmates.
In reality, these spurters had the same or lower IQs than the other students.
The spurters’ names were made known to the teachers and at the end of the study, every student was again tested with the same IQ test.
The spurters showed large gains compared to everyone else, even though their initial IQ scores were the same or lower.
The researchers concluded that merely increasing expectations can dramatically enhance achievement.
Expect success and you’ll get it.
Positive expectancy will help you ward off decision fatigue while also helping you save willpower during the decision-making process.
Your brain power depends on your willpower and your willpower consists of a set number of decision-making units. You can’t increase brain power but you can conserve it by associating with the right people, batching pursuits, and stacking your habits. By also improving your environment and expecting positive results, you’ll prevent decision fatigue and perform at a higher level.
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