By now the idea that willpower is real, and that it is very much a limited resource, is widely accepted by science. Sure, you can count on your willpower to do things you don’t like, like drive to the dentist when you’d rather drive off a cliff, or do your situps when your entire body is screaming to eat a cake.
You can do as the New York Times suggests and boost your levels of self-restraint be eating healthy, protein-rich foods or laughing, but you’re still only working with so much. That makes it important to conserve your willpower for the times when you’ll really need it, so you don’t punch your boss in the nose or snap at your boyfriend. Easier said than done.
In my experience, you have a baseline of drive and determination, an inborn ratio of how much sucky work you’re willing to do before you just have to blow it all off. Sure, you can increase this ratio a bit by acting responsibly, thereby increasing your willpower, but only so much. Why, then, would you spend time using your willpower up on things you don’t really want to do?
You wouldn’t, you say. Yet so many of us do. Think about it: when was the last time you planned a workout routine that you just weren’t going to stick to, like an ambitious weight-training routine when you absolutely hate the gym? Or a work schedule that began at 6:30 though you can’t stand to open your eyes before the sun comes up? Or perhaps an ambitious craft project when you’d sooner put needles in your eye than through a sheet of fabric?
I know that I do a lot of ambitious planning for laughably hatable tasks (“This is the year of pine cone art!”). Then I end up clicking numbly through Pinterest, or cooking weird meals, or imagining the eulogies my friends will give for me when I die … anything, really, than the task at hand. Unfortunately, spending all this time avoiding what you’ve told yourself you’ll do depletes your energy too, and makes you feel bad about yourself on top.
Masochists read no further: you know how to spend your next Saturday. The rest of us, however, should take a memo: if you don’t want to do it, don’t plan on it. If you’ve told yourself forever that you want to learn to sew, but really actually don’t, quit telling yourself you’ll learn. Get rid of aspirational cooking devices that make you feel guilty. Stop talking about a business you won’t start. Cutting yourself a break will make it easier to pursue what really matters to you. Decluttering your fake dreams will give you the time, the energy and the mental space to pursue one you really want.