Willpower – The Greatest Human Strength

In summer 2012, I decided that I wanted to do a little self-improvement and bought three books to help me start the new school year out right.

Two of them were money books. In my usual fashion, I only read two-thirds of “The Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey. I never even read the first page of the other one; it just travels with me when I move. Nevertheless, they both still collect dust on the bookshelf.

The third book was “Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength: Willpower” by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney. I had skimmed the pages and read the first chapter but could not seem to find the energy to read for fun, since by that time school was in full swing.

My lofty idea of improving myself did not go as planned, and I lived yet another year just about the same.

It was not until I needed a book to keep me company on the long flight back from San Francisco this summer that I picked up Baumeister and Tierney’s book again. Being alone on planes and airports for a whole day gave me just the excuse to read it completely. That book probably could not have come at a better time.

At that point, my attempts at getting an internship had failed, and I had to live with my parents all summer long for the first time in three years. No job prospects, no friends returning home, and a break up. Sounds like a sad and boring summer, right?

It was a great time to evaluate how I was living my life and how I could actively change it.

Like most students who enter college for the first time, I relied on my intelligence to help me excel, and my self-confidence from high school “success” led me to believe things would always go my way.

At Mississippi College, I have done well for myself, and in the past three years I got to experience some amazing things. But I never had gotten to the point where I had control of how my life ran. Life, especially during the school year, was so stressful when it really was not that hard.

Baumeister and Tierney taught me that I seriously needed to work on my self-control and willpower, which, “becomes fatigued from overuse but can also be strengthened over the long time through exercise.”

They affirm the idea that willpower is a limited resource and when it is drained, people (and even dogs) have less willpower for whatever task is coming next in their lives.

I learned that those people who try to improve many parts of their life at one time often fail, but those who focus on one aspect they would like improve have a much higher chance of being successful.

Once that project becomes an integrated habit of their lifestyle, then they can move on to another improvement. Basically, taking control of my life would take time.

However, increasing one’s willpower in one area has a spillover effect such that it helps willpower in other areas. In other words, the more I accustom myself to using my willpower, the easier it will become to use it.

Also, “the human mind exists in a biological body.” People have to have an energy source to function properly, food and sleep. If they do not eat properly, they are less likely to exercise willpower.

They ascertain that it is foolish to rely on the mentality “knowledge is power.” Rather, the book focuses on the understanding that self-care is essentially more important to strengthen willpower than being self-punitive and harsh.

With the work load I have now, people question how I can stay so alert and seem so well rested. It is not easy, but with the right tools, my life runs much more smoothly.

Kelsey Kitch, Editor


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