Willpower is a finite resource. There are studies that point that way, but it is true in my experience. If you spend it, you have to recharge it before you spend it again.
But what spends or recharges your willpower is completely different from person to person. For example, I need to use willpower to switch gears. If I get immersed in something, anything, even if it’s something I don’t like or enjoy, changing gear from that to anything else, even if it’s something I like better, requires willpower. That doesn’t make any sense, does it?
On the other hand, I once saw my brother stop watching a good movie in order to study. If he used his willpower to do it, it wasn’t much for him. If I was in his shoes such an act would have been a mighty struggle.
What I am learning is that willpower is like a rechargeable battery. You can charge it back up after it’s been drained.
So what charges our rechargeable battery? Sleep and having fun are the two main activities. If you’re short on both you’re having to run on a drained battery. Unlike real electric devices we humans can wring out willpower where there is little reserve, but that takes toll on our system.
Also, it appears that how much charge your battery affects the rate of drain. If I spent a lot of time having raucous fun, for example, I feel more generous with my willpower. In that state, activities that usually take a lot of willpower don’t seem that that daunting.
Then there are some states that drain the charge faster — stress being a big one. In this state I’d have less resolve to fight off temptations. That explains why a stressed person has a harder time sticking to diet than an unstressed person.
Once you understand that your willpower is a rechargeable battery and some acts charge it while others discharge it, you can start to explore how to create a better balance between the draining and the charging in your life.
I used to be very poor at taking care of myself. I am still not great at having fun. But learning this concept has helped a great deal in terms of feeling justified to recharge my battery.
I am also learning that a fine nuance that exists between the charging and draining. Years ago, playing the guitar was a drain, because every time I picked up the guitar I felt frustrated by how poor of a guitarist I was compared to how good I wanted to be. The attitude of glass being half empty turned what I love into a drain. Thankfully I shed that mindset and now playing the guitar is very much a charge.
So it’s not necessarily the act that charges or drains our battery. It’s the experience. Sometimes a supposedly fun activity may not go down as a fun experience for you because there’s something else going on in your mind. So you have to pay careful attention to how your mind is experiencing any given activity.
Life is made up of experiences. All activities require energy, but some give you back more than you expend, while others simply drain. So the key to a well-lived life is to at least balance the two kinds of experiences, so that you’re not constantly running on empty. It’s not a sin to take the time out to recharge your battery. It’s actually quite necessary.