Optimize Willpower

Locked 101 Classes

Willpower 101

The Science of Self-Control and How to Build Your Optimizing Engine

Willpower is the queen of all virtues. It outpredicts IQ by a factor of TWO for academic performance (and everything else we want in life). This class is all about the science of how to systematically build our willpower so we can reach our highest potential.

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Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

Willpower. It’s ESSENTIAL to optimizing our lives. In fact, in their *great* book, Willpower, Roy Baumeister (one of the world’s leading scientific researchers on self-control) and John Tierney (science writer for the New York Times) tell us that “Improving willpower is the surest way to a better life.” In this Note, we’ll learn how to eat our way to willpower (seriously), how to exercise our self-control muscles, why “precommitment” is so important and how to win the willpower game with bright lines and a great offense. :)

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The Willpower Instinct

How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It

Willpower. It’s huge. The Willpower Instinct by award-winning Stanford Professor Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., is a GREAT book based on “The Science of Willpower” class Kelly teaches through Stanford University’s Continuing Studies program. It’s *packed* with super practical Big Ideas on the newest scientific insights about self-control to explain how we can “break old habits and create healthy habits, conquer procrastination, find our focus, and manage stress.” In this Note, we’ll check out the #1 way to build willpower (it’s not what you’d guess), how to give ourselves willpower boosts throughout the day and other stress-relief strategies that rock.

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The Marshmallow Test

Why Self-Control Is the Engine of Success

The Marshmallow Test. It was Walter Mischel and his team who (50 years ago!) first started testing whether kids could wait 20 minutes to get two marshmallows (or other attractive treats) or if they’d give in and eat the one marshmallow in front of them. Their ability to delay gratification (or not!) led to shocking correlations related to how they fared on all kinds of measures years + decades later—from SAT performance to body mass index. Here’s the guide on how to develop your self-control.


The Tools

Transform Your Problems into Courage, Confidence, and Creativity

The Tools. This was easily the best book I read in 2012. It's *packed* with goodness. Stutz and Michels are two no-nonsense therapists who developed powerful tools to transform our problems into courage, confidence, and creativity. In this Note, we'll take a quick peek at how to put these powerful tools to work to create real change in our lives.

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Coming Alive

4 Tools to Defeat Your Inner Enemy, Ignite Creative Expression & Unleash Your Soul’s Potential

I’m a HUGE fan of Phil and Barry's first book, The Tools. Coming Alive is kinda like The Tools Part 2. In this book, we get four new tools to go along with the original five tools. Big Ideas we explore include how to connect to our Life Force, defeat Part X (their name for that part of each of us that gets in the way), build our confidence and learn to see problems as gifts as we live a GREAT life.

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The 5 Second Rule

Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage

Mel Robbins is funny, witty and wise. Her TEDx Talk (called How to stop screwing yourself over) is one of the most popular of all time, with more than 18 million views. This book is also super popular—with over 1,000 Amazon reviews. It’s pretty awesome. Actually, the book is REALLY (!) good. In fact, Mel Robbins’ 5 Second Rule might just be one of THE most elegantly efficient Tools we can use to close the gap between who we’re CAPABLE of being and who we’re ACTUALLY being. (Seriously.) Big Ideas we explore include The 5 Second Rule (and how/when to rock it), how to win the game of life (hint: start, stay in, for the long game!), excitement + anxiety (and how they feel the same in the body), managing distractions (today a good day?), and changing your life with one moment of everyday courage.

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An Iron Will

This is a tiny little book PACKED with wisdom. Written in a classic, hard-hitting, early 20th century old- school-cool style, it reminds me of a cross between Samuel Smiles’ Self-Help and James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh. In fact, the title “As a Man Willeth” would fit quite nicely. We'll unpack some goodness in the Note.

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The Spartan Way

Eat Better. Train Better. Think Better. Be Better.

Joe De Sena created Spartan Race. He's one of my favorite people on the planet. His mission? To "yank 100 million people off their couches to start living instead of being passive observers of life.” Angela Duckworth calls him a "paragon of grit" and, as you know if you've been following along, I'm ALL IN on Spartan Races as an epically awesome way to use obstacles to make ourselves stronger. We featured his first two books Spartan Up! and Spartan Fit! In this one, Joe walks us through the ten Spartan Core Virtues—from Self-Awareness and Commitment to Grit and Integrity. If you’re into embodying the classic virtues of ancient Greece as much as I am, I think you’ll dig the book as much as I did. Big Ideas we explore: A quick look at our Top 10 Spartan Virtues, how to find your True North, commitment (do you know what it *truly* is?), marshmallows (and our six-year-old sons), and what you'll know at the finish line (get there!!).

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The Procrastination Equation

How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done

Did you know there’s an equation for Procrastination? Yep. Expectancy x Value / Impulsiveness x Delay = Motivation. Thank you, Piers Steel. In this great book, Piers (a leading researcher on the science of motivation/procrastination) walks us thru the power of that equation. Big Ideas we explore include: Mental Contrasting (and why it beats creative visualization), goal setting (3 scientific keys) and how to add a month of productivity to your year.

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Discipline Equals Freedom

Field Manual

Jocko Willink is a retired Navy SEAL. He was commander of Task Unit Bruiser―the most decorated Special Operations Unit of the Iraq War. I really enjoyed Jocko’s first book Extreme Ownership and I knew this one would be good but... I didn’t expect it to be THIS good. The words literally explode off the page. Not just because each micro-chapter was an incredibly inspiring micro-manifesto but because each word was written by a man so clearly living in complete integrity with his deepest values. John Maxwell would say his “moral authority” is extraordinary. I’d say his SOUL FORCE is palpable. If you’re in the mood for a soul-rattling call-to-disciplined action, I think you’ll enjoy the book as much as I did.

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The Art of Taking Action

Lessons from Japanese Psychology

Greg Krech is one of the world’s leading teachers of Japanese psychology. This book integrates three core facets of the work he has done for the last 25+ years: Morita Therapy + kaizen + Naikan. Big Ideas we explore include understanding what is within our control and what is not (hint: thoughts and feelings are not; behaviors are), how to create momentum in your life and the importance of constant incremental improvement.

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Rethinking Positive Thinking

Inside the New Science of Motivation

Gabriel Oettingen is one of the world’s leading researchers in “The New Science of Motivation.” The basic idea of the book is captured in a clever image on the cover: Rose colored glasses with one lens cracked. Oettingen walks us thru the compelling research that demonstrates the power of seeing both the positive AND the challenges. When we contrast our wishes with the obstacles to their attainment we, almost magically, catalyze an extraordinarily higher level of performance.

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How We Can Reach Our Goals

How’d you like the scientific low-down on how to effectively set goals and succeed? Well, Heidi Grant Halvorson, the young Positive Psychology superstar, gives you the goods in this awesome book. You might be surprised by what you learn. It’s not all about vision boards and visualization (obviously). In the Note, we’ll explore all kinds of Big Ideas, including the fact that we need to have a specific, difficult (but attainable) goal we believe we can achieve AND awareness of all the challenges that stand in our way. Powerful stuff.

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The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Angela Duckworth is the world’s leading authority on the science of grit. In fact, she pioneered the field and, as Daniel Gilbert says on the cover: “Psychologists have spent decades searching for the secret of success, but Duckworth is the one who found it.” In this Note, we explore the two facets of grit (hint: passion + perseverance, why they’re important and how to cultivate them.

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The Motivation Manifesto

Brendon Burchard is one of the most popular motivation and business marketing experts in the world. (To put it in perspective: He’s one of the Top 100 most popular public figures on Facebook and has twice as many fans as Tony Robbins.) This book is packed with Big Ideas. We explore the root of the word motivation, how to spark + sustain + amplify our motivation, eliminating digital addictions, and creating out own motivation manifesto.

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Bright Line Eating

The Science of Living Happy, Thin & Free

Susan Peirce Thompson is a Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester. She’s an expert in the psychology of eating and creator of Bright Line Eating Solutions, “a company dedicated to helping people achieve long-term, sustainable weight loss.” Plus... She used to be obese and, as she says, addicted to *everything.* She integrates her background in neuroscience with her personal experience conquering her diet and other addiction issues in this super popular book. Big Ideas we explore include why bright lines are where it’s at, the susceptibility quiz, the saboteur, self-perception theory, and the four bright lines of eating.

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Tiny Habits

The Small Changes That Change Everything

BJ Fogg founded the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University. He is one of the world’s leading authorities on the science of behavior change. In this book, he introduces us to the core elements of his Fogg Behavior Model as we learn that habit change doesn’t need to be as hard as we make it. As BJ tells us: “We are not the problem. Our approach to change is. It’s a design flaw—not a personal flaw.” Big Ideas we explore include the three elements that drive behavior (B = MAP!), the ABCs of Tiny Habits (Anchor + (Tiny) Behavior + Celebration!), the power of anchor prompts (After I (ANCHOR), I will (NEW HABIT), and the power of celebration (get your Shine on!).


Atomic Habits

An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

James Clear has a super-popular website (jamesclear.com). Millions of people visit it every month and hundreds of thousands subscribe to his email newsletter. After reading this book, I can see why. He’s a great writer and distills the essence of habit formation into, well, its fundamental components—the “atomic” structure if you will—while showing us how those TINY little incremental improvements add up to MIGHTY results. I rarely say a book is a must-read but this one’s as close as it gets. Big Ideas we explore include: The math behind 1% gains compounding over a year (and a decade!), navigating the Plateau of Latent Potential (ever given up on a habit? Take note!), the importance (and etymology) of our Identity (get this: it *literally* means 'repeated being ness'), The 4 Laws of Behavior Change (remember: cue + craving + response + reward and... make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, make it satisfying), and the Sorites Paradox (can a single habit change your life?).


#28 Emotional Stamina

What to Do When You’re Having a Rough Day
What do you do when you’re having a rough day? Maybe it starts the moment you wake up and you just don’t feel like doing your normal
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#45 Bright Lines

How to Make Good Contracts with Yourself
I dropped out of law school before a semester was over but I do remember one Big Idea from Contracts class. Lawyers like to say that a
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#46 Commitments: 100% Is a Breeze

99%? Not So Much.
So, as per our last +1, bright lines are super helpful in making deals with ourselves. Here’s another way to look at the same basic idea.
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#55 The Law of Diminishing Intent

Goes Nicely with Massive Action
In our last +1, we talked about the fact that Speed Is a Force. Jim Rohn said the same thing a little differently. He told us about the
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#87 Swimming Rats

How to Increase Your Endurance by 240x (!!!)
Although I’m not a huge fan of some of the drawbacks of animal testing, this study is astonishing and worth knowing about. Get this: In

#138 Want Willpower: Play Offense not Defense

How to Win the Willpower World Series
Most of us wonder how we can have more willpower in those moments of temptation. But Roy Baumeister—the world’s leading expert on
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#155 Precommitment

Making Contracts with Odysseus + Ourselves
In our last +1, we talked about the power of recommitting. You make a big commitment, then you fall a little off track. No big deal,
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#156 Sirens

What Song Do They Sing to YOU?
In our last +1 we talked about Odysseus and his contract with himself as he navigated past the Sirens. As we discussed, willpower scientists
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#157 Implementation Intentions

The Power of “If… Then…”
Continuing our theme of powerfully facing our challenges, let’s talk about THE most powerful way science says we can rock it. Remember
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#169 You + Your Future Self in an fMRI

Does Your Future Self Look More Like a Stranger or You?
In our last +1, we had our brains scanned and learned that the pain of procrastination is only in the ANTICIPATION of doing something—not
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#171 The Marshmallow Test

Can You Wait for Two?
As we recently discussed, Walter Mischel is one of the world’s leading researchers on the science of willpower. You’ve probably heard
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#181 Energizers vs. Enervators

The Art & Science of How to Take a Good Break
We know it’s important to take good breaks. We want to work for a certain period of time (NASA says no more than 90 minutes or so) and
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#188 Reduce the Variability of Your Behavior

To Increase the Likelihood of Rocking It
We’ve had a number of +1s on how to Optimize the use of our limited Willpower to install Habits that run on autopilot. Here’s another
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#223 Sharpen Your Saw Again (Please)

Habit #7 of Highly Effective People
Today we wrap up our tour of the 7 Habits. One more pop quiz. Can you recall each of the prior 6? … Insert Jeopardy music here while you

#262 Cucumbers & Pickles

Your Brain on Addiction
Adam Alter wrote a great book called Irresistible in which he walks us through how we become addicted to technology and tells us about the

#298 How to Make Good Decisions

Think: Boundary Conditions (Thanks, Drucker!)
This morning I woke up early with a bunch of +1s forming in my head. I smiled as I unpacked them a bit while enjoying a few more minutes in
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#486 Want SuperWillpower NOW?

Here’s the Fastest Way to Get It
Continuing our Optimal Breathing theme, here’s a little gem from Kelly McGonigal’s The Willpower Instinct. I’ll let her take over…
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#607 IQ vs. Willpower

One Is a Much Better Predictor than the Other
In our last +1, we talked about the awesome CEO-dads (and Harvard interns!) who are committed to mastering their Love as much as their Work.
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#608 Running Your Willpower Offense

Strategic Considerations + Odysseus Contracts
In our last +1, we talked about the fact that willpower outpredicts IQ by a factor of TWO for academic performance. Today I want to revisit
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#668 Emotional Stamina - Part 2

Execute Protocol: The Worse You Feel AND the Better You Feel
The other day, Phil and I were celebrating some Optimize goodness including exciting opportunities on the Social side of things (!) and the
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#673 How Long Do I Have to Wait?

Patience + Perseverance = Commanding Weapon
Joe De Sena’s newest book is called The Spartan Way. It’s all about the ten Spartan virtues. It’s awesome. (Quick recap for those who
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#788 The 5 Second Rule

5… 4 … 3 … 2 … 1 … BLASTOFF!
Mel Robbins has a super-popular TEDx Talk called How to stop screwing yourself. She also wrote a super-popular book called The 5-Second
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#865 Pilot + Co-Pilot + Autopilot

The Art and Science of Installing Good Habit-Algorithms
In our last couple +1s, we talked about Seneca’s wisdom on the importance of “fortifying our pertinacity” until our will to do the
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#1112 How to Make Yourself Miserable

And How Not to Waste Brain Cells
In our last +1, we talked about my impulsive little foray into a Dropbox Paper chat—allowing myself to get distracted reacting to some
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(Energy x Focus x What’s Important Now) ^ Consistency
In our last +1, we talked about the fact that, if we could figure out how to take 30 EXPONENTIAL steps, we’d be able to hop in a rocket
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#1198 B = MAP

The Behavior Design Equation
BJ Fogg founded the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University. He’s one of the world’s leading authorities on the science of behavior
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#1199 How to Delete a Behavior

Remove the Prompt and Make It Hard!
In our last +1, we talked about BJ Fogg and his Behavior Design Equation. Pop quiz: Do you remember it? … (Active retrieval for the Making
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#1212 Prompt Begone!

No Behavior Happens Without a Prompt
In our last +1, we talked about some parallel wisdom from BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits and Alex Korb’s The Upward Spiral. Quick repetition
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#1221 Mission Algorithms

Binary Pre-Commitments
A couple +1s ago, we spent some time with Admiral McRaven hours before the launch of his successful mission to bring justice to Osama bin
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#1277 Draw Your Line in the Dirt

And Get to It. Repeat. Forever.
Today I want to go spend another minute or three with Trevor Moawad and some more wisdom from his great book It Takes What It Takes. Let’s