Desperately want to improve your focus? Stop trying so hard

What does the word ‘willpower’ mean to you? Do you associate willpower with rough, hardened folk who grit their teeth through intense adversity?

Or maybe you have a more innocuous idea of willpower as something you need to stick to a diet, for example?

As independent professionals, willpower is a concept we engage with on a daily basis, knowingly or unknowingly. There are times when we want something so much, that we focus all of our attention to either achieving that goal, or avoiding an outcome that is contrary to what we want.

Sound familiar?

Now, I would like you to consider the idea that trying hard to focus on something is actually one of the worst things you can do in pursuit of that thing. Sounds ridiculous, right?

Wait until you see what actual studies have to say about the matter.....

The Grand Willpower Experiment

In 1996, a researcher named Roy Baumeister and his colleagues at Case Western Reserve University set out to understand this fickle thing we called ‘willpower’. The experiment they designed to get this data was somewhat masochistic, but it got the job done.

It was decided that to find out how willpower works, study participants would have to participate in a food-based challenge that was specifically designed to drain their willpower.

A total of 67 participants were asked to enter a room that was filled with the fragrance of freshly-baked chocolate cookies. Subsequently, the source of the fragrance (delicious chocolate cookies) and other chocolate-flavored treats were placed in front of the study participants, who were divided into two groups. One of the groups were allowed to eat the chocolate-ey goodies, while the other group was told they couldn’t eat any of them and had to eat radishes instead.

Unsurprisingly, participants who were asked to eat radishes displayed a clear interest in eating the chocolates instead. This urge was so strong, the researchers said, that most of the radish-eaters would look longingly at the chocolates, and some of the participants even picked up some chocolate cookies just so they could sniff them.

Understanding the results

An experiment designed solely to ask people to choose between radishes and chocolate would be pretty pointless on its own, right?

After the chocolate and radish-eating part was done, Baumeister and his team administered a test which all of the participants were asked to solve. The test was designed to be one of persistence and not of cognitive ability. Participants were expected to fail and the real test was to see how long they would persist with solving it until they gave up.

The chocolate group worked on the test for an average of 20 minutes before they gave up. The radish eaters lasted just 8 minutes.

This is where the real genius of the test began to take shape – participants who had already indulged in a demanding task (resisting chocolates and eating radishes instead) were too drained of willpower to continue with another difficult endeavor. They were simply too tired.

What does this say about the nature of willpower?

For the longest time, people believed that willpower is something innate – you either have it or you don’t. We now know that this isn’t true, because there are several days when you have more or less willpower to perform essentially the same task – your daily office work, for example.

This experiment definitively shifted out understanding of willpower and self-control. As a result of this study, we now know that willpower works much like a muscle, and is therefore a finite resource. Just like the thought of lifting the bar another inch off the ground seems impossible after you’ve done a few reps of your squat, depleting your willpower can make it incredibly difficult to make good decisions.

You have a finite amount of willpower at your disposal every day. Once it’s over, you can’t ‘will’ yourself to do things.

Interesting. So how do I go about improving my willpower?

Even though willpower is a finite resource, you can increase the amount you have to draw from with regular practice. One of the most important things to think about in this regard is the concept of single-tasking.

When you’re balancing 17 different tabs (totally guilty on that one) and working on an Excel sheet, an email and a web document at the same time, you’re going to run out of steam quickly. Research has proven that multi-tasking reduces productivity significantly. So, if you want to have more willpower, make sure you focus on one thing. Make that thing a priority and finish it before you indulge in other things.

Meditation is another great way to build up your willpower. Through meditation, you are able to improve the functioning of your brain and improve your decision making ability. Consider it a workout for your mind muscle.

As we’ve mentioned, trying to balance too many things depletes your willpower and reduces your focus. This is why we created Dubsado. By automating almost every repeatable aspect of your business, Dubsado makes it easy for you to focus on creating great things.

Stop beating yourself up for bad decisions you’ve made in the past. Maybe you just need to change the way you look at focus and achievement.