Drawing upon hidden reserves of willpower

Look at how happy this couple is. Running doesn't cost them any willpower because it just makes them sooooo happy. Jerks.
Look at how happy this couple is. Running doesn’t cost them any willpower because it just makes them sooooo happy. Jerks.

The Willpower Instinct is a book that just keeps on giving. There’s a section in the book about we have finite reserves of willpower. The more of it we expend, the less of it we have. However, the book also theorizes that our body maintains a hidden reservoir of willpower. Like, it tells us that we don’t have any more, even though we secretly do. In just the same way, our body tells us that we’re tired, even though we could stay awake longer, and that we’re hungry, even though we could go without eating.

This was a fascinating metaphor to me. On the one hand, it’s obvious: we can do more than we think we can. But, on the other hand, I’m used to trusting the signals that my body gives me. It hadn’t occurred to me that there’s a kind of error built in there.

Anyway, this yielded a practical advantage today. You see, I try (as much as possible) to not drink coffee or take any caffeine that’s stronger than tea. However, for some reason, I was very tired this morning, and just had that feeling like I couldn’t face the day without it. Normally, in this situation, I’d cave and drink it and then overdo it and not be able to sleep tonight and feel miserable for the next few days.* However, today I figured that I had some hidden reserves of willpower in me, so I actually managed to just sort of power through the whole day and do everything I needed to do (including write this blog post).


*I call it the five-day coffee cycle: on day one I’m so tired that I drink so much caffeine that I can’t sleep; on day two I’m even more tired and drink more caffeine and still can’t sleep; on day three I’m so tired that even though I drink a huge amount of caffeine, I’m able to manage some sleep; on day four I manage to get enough sleep that by day five I’m not tired at all and end up sleeping very poorly that night (leading me to being extremely tired on the next day, which is when the cycle restarts). This just goes on and on until I finally stop drinking coffee again.

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