A collection of essays by Bill (website@ccjj.info) accompanied by feedback from his friends.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Key to Will Power

Most of us know what we should do, but don't do it. We should diet, we should exercise.

One problem I used to have was it was hard to get out of bed in the morning. one thing I used to do when I had flextime was usually show up at work between 11am and noon, and work until 8 or 10pm.

The consequence of this was that my social life from Monday to Friday was horrible. I basically never did much after work.

Then I got a job where I *HAD* to show up at 9am. I thought I was going to die. But I adjusted, and I found that I could leave work at 6pm with a clean conscience and suddenly, I had a vastly improved social life.

Then I moved to the job I have now where, if I show up before 10;30am, no one is going to complain. Nonetheless, it remained in my interest to be at work around 9am.

Unfortunately, it was hard to translate this long range desire for a healthier social life into the will power to propel me out of bed.

So I adopted a rule for myself. If I get off the subway in Manhattan before 9am, I get to buy a ham and egg sandwich, which I really like, from a street vendor on my way to work. If I'm later, I have to settle for cereal at work, which I don't like anywhere near as much. Now, when I'm in bed and not feeling like getting up, I think of the sandwich. A tangible reward like that within an hour or so of the desired activity gets me to do it.

Once I got off the subway and I was 2 and a half seconds late. I didn't get the sandwich. It would've been a completely hollow victory if I cheated.

Similarly, I walk up 19 flights of stairs twice a day in the skyscraper I work in. The goal, of course is to be in good shape. Of course, it's a very long-term goal, and sometimes it's very tempting to skip the exercise. So if I make it up the stairs a second time, I reward myself with a large glass of diet sprite. Similarly, that helps get the job done.

So I think I've stumbled onto something here. The brain is too impatient to think in terms of long-term goals, so substitute short-term rewards for long-term ones.


  1. Well sounds like you've got it figured out...it is about the rewards after we sacrifice that propels us to continue good habits...although I would probably exchange the sprite for something like cheesecake....keep it up Bill

  2. One trick some dieters do if they've lost a lot of weight, is post a really unappealing picture of themselves when they were heavy on the refrigerator to deter themselves from eating. This doesn't fall into my category of offering yourself short-term rewards, but hey-whatever works.

    I remember one time I was on a first date, and the girl looked pretty good. I got into her apartment and there on the refrigerator was a picture of her, only 100 pounds heavier. Given that it's a lot easier to lose weight than it is to keep it off, that was pretty deterring to me.