Faced with Distraction, We Need Willpower

February 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

Mustering willpower is a struggle for almost everyone — and it’s getting harder. We, as individuals and as a society, lack self-control at precisely the time we need it most.

Willpower is about more than resisting our bad habits. It’s the mental discipline that allows us to cultivate good habits, make better decisions, and control our own behaviors — everything from dieting effectively to powering through difficult problems at work. It’s a quality that can separate the most productive businesspeople from the least productive. And it’s a trait that many of us lack. Surveys of more than 1 million people show that self-control is the character trait modern men and women recognize least in themselves.

Our environment only exacerbates the problem. The jungle of stimuli that engulfs us each day make it difficult to exercise restraint or focus on the important habits we need to build or tasks we need to accomplish. Nicholas Carr has argued in his book, The Shallows, that the internet is destroying our ability to concentrate and read or think deeply; and as John Tierney and Roy Baumeister point out in their book, Willpower, a typical computer user checks out more than three dozen websites per day. Focusing on an important memo is hampered by the distraction of Facebook and the incessant new email notifications blinking on our smartphones. Our ability to read a book is handicapped by the impatience of our 140-character habits. Even as I write this article, I’m tempted to snack, surf Wikipedia, check Twitter, or switch to another task.

But willpower is an essential quality you’ll need for personal effectiveness at work, forcing yourself to prioritize the most important items on your to-do list, powering through an endless day of difficult decisions, or simply resisting the urge to eat that extra bag of chips in the office snack room. Want to grow your business or get that promotion at work? Cultivating willpower may be your quickest route to success.

To combat declining willpower, consider a few of the following approaches, based in part on Tierney and Baumeister’s recommendations:

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Write a review, get an autograph!

February 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

We’d love to hear your feedback on Passion & Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest Young Business Leaders. Beginning now, and ending at the end of February, if you write a review of Passion & Purpose, we’ll send you an autographed bookplate by mail. Here’s how it works:

1. Write a review of Passion & Purpose on Amazon, HBR, or your personal blog.

2. Contact me via my contact page with your name, email, and mailing address.

3. I’ll send you an autographed bookplate. The bookplate has been produced specifically for Passion & Purpose by HBR, and will affix to the inside cover of the book (or it can just be something to hold on to if you read on an iPad or Kindle!).

For now the only signature will be from me (John Coleman). Thanks, and we hope to see your review posted soon!

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