How are you doing with your writing goals? If you feel like I sometimes do, then you probably wish that you were writing more. The problem is after you’re done working, cooking dinner, and getting the little ones to bed, the last thing you want to do is write. Instead, you decide to relax and promise yourself that you’ll write tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes. At this point, you’ve depleted your willpower in your daily routine.
Everyday, in one way or another, you apply willpower. It could be something as simple as choosing to go to the gym rather than sleeping in, or finishing a report instead of browsing Facebook. Yet, research shows that willpower is a limited resource capable of being depleted.
According to the American Psychological Association, willpower can be defined as, “short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.”
There will be days when your willpower is stronger. Whether you’re feeling tired or not, you’ll still find yourself at the keyboard typing away. Other days, you’ll stare at that blank page, feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders. When that happens, how do you find the willpower to keep writing?
Get enough sleep.
When you’re tired, forget about it; your willpower goes bye-bye. Just the other day, I spent several minutes staring at my computer screen, too exhausted to think. Finally, I admitted to myself that writing wasn’t happening right then. A 2015 study showed that poor sleeping habits negatively affect self-control (willpower). Sleep-deprivation puts you “at increased risk” to succumb to “impulsive desires, inattentiveness, and questionable decision-making.” For example, if given two choices, such as writing or watching TV, you are more likely to choose the less challenging task because it requires less mental energy. On the flip side, getting a good nights sleep can restore your ability to make difficult choices.
Limit the decisions you have to make prior to writing.
Scientists believe that willpower is like a muscle. Every time you make a decision, you are using that muscle. As a result, willpower can become fatigued from overuse. That means if you’ve spent all day making decisions, then have to come home and choose whether or not to write, chances are your willpower will crumble. I suggest you schedule your writing time for earlier in the day before your willpower is depleted. Planning ahead, like picking your clothes the night before or prepping meals for the week, will help limit the amount of decisions you have to make and you can keep your willpower strong.
Watch re-runs of your favorite show or read your favorite book.
This may seem counter-productive, but this study conducted at the University of Buffalo, shows that participants who watched re-runs of their favorite fictional shows had restored energy levels and renewed willpower. How so, you ask? When you’re re-watching a favorite show, or re-reading a favorite book, you’re typically not controlling your thoughts, therefore no mental energy is being exerted. Instead, you are “interacting” with your favorite characters which boosts willpower and energy.
Practice mindfulness meditation.
The area of your brain that uses willpower is the same area that’s activated when you meditate. As such, meditation can increase your self-control and willpower, as shown in this 2012 study. Participants were given a task to complete immediately after finishing one that required willpower. Those who meditated prior to the second task performed better than those who didn’t. As a result, it is suggested that brief mindfulness meditation can serve as a quick way to replenish willpower when it’s running low. Meaning, if you take a few minutes to meditate before your scheduled writing time, you may recover enough to push through.
Willpower is about forcing yourself to either do something or not do something. Write vs. watching tv. Exercise vs. sleeping in. It is a powerful resource when applied correctly. The challenge comes in when we want conflicting things. How do we hang tight to our willpower enough to choose writing over whatever other option we are faced with? Here are 6 tricks to keep writing when you have little willpower.
1. Make writing a habit.
Turn your writing into a system so that you do it automatically without thinking. Writing a few days per week requires a lot of willpower. However, if you were to write daily, eventually it will become a habit. Associate your writing with something else that you do habitually everyday so that it becomes a part of your routine and not something you have to “find time” to do.
2. Set a schedule and stick with it!
It happens to us writers all the time. We tell ourselves, “I’ve got too much to do today; I don’t have time to write.” Or, “I don’t have the energy to write.” We’re human and have other commitments, trust me, I get it. With everything else going on in your life, when it finally comes time to write, you’ve used up all of your willpower. Instead, grab your planner and decide what periods of time are possible for writing. Add these writing times to your schedule and always stick with them. Make sure to let your friends and family know when you plan on writing. Ask that they respect these times and not disturb you.
3. Set a time limit and use a timer.
You’ve had a long day and the thought of writing for an unspecified amount of time can be intimidating. Instead, set a timer and tell yourself that you’ll only write for 15 minutes. After that time is up, you may find that you’re so into what you’re creating, that you want to keep going. Of course, if you feel like stopping once the timer goes off, then by all means do so. Using a timer sets a limit which forces you to be more productive; you’ll be less likely to misuse that time.
4. Have a plan.
Willpower likes specifics. Having a set time to write with no plan of what to write can be overwhelming. For your bigger projects, try breaking them down into smaller, more manageable ones. When it comes time to write, be specific. Unless you are freewriting, you’re not going to write about just anything. You are going to write the first 500 words of chapter 3 or outline chapter 4. Having a specified goal makes it easier to achieve.
5. Consider a writing gig.
Getting a job means you’ll have a boss, and having a boss means there’s someone telling you to write. If working a writing job is your main source of income, I guarantee you’ll write, willpower be damned. If a fulltime gig is not for you, try it on a smaller scale. Try meeting with local editors to see if they have jobs for freelancers.
6. Focus on one project at a time.
Pour all of your energy and willpower into the most important project and push everything else aside. This way you are not trying to tackle too much at once and you’re at less risk of depleting your willpower for any writing at all. Once you’ve completed it, you can return your attention to your other ideas or projects.
If nothing else, just keep imagining how awesome it’ll feel once you’ve finished it!
What helps you boost your willpower to keep writing? Please share in the comments section.