Understanding How Willpower Works, And How To Avoid Lazy Habits

The age-old adage, “Try and try till you succeed” is quite often quoted to motivate people to stay committed to their personal goal of shedding those extra pounds around the waist or to strive to give up an addiction and replace it with a healthy habit instead. Unfortunately, many people fail to realize their dream despite staying fully committed to the change process. In the case of pornography and masturbation, people who have previously experienced failure in practising abstinence tend to wrongly believe that they lack the necessary willpower to bring about the desired change in their life. Such people manage to stay focused for a limited period of time but the smallest trigger inevitably sets things off on a tailspin and they dejectedly give up even trying to change.

The problem is not that we lack willpower but that we are consistently and unnecessarily overburdening our mind with our daily trivial matters and draining out the precious energy. Experts suggest that our personal willpower is like our physical muscle that gets worn out after a tiring day at work or after a strenuous workout session in the gym. The more you utilize your willpower to make decisions pertaining to your daily insignificant matters the more likely it is going to be exhausted which may lead you to compromise on things that are of vital importance to you. When your willpower is fading your brain will inevitably get tired of making decisions, causing the mind to give up the reins and let external factors run its course.

In a courtroom research study conducted to understand the impact of fatigue on the decision-making ability, researchers examined 1,112 judicial rulings over a span of 10-months. All of the rulings were made by a parole board judge, who was determining whether or not to allow the criminal to be released from prison on parole. One would assume that the judge’s decision depended on the type of crime committed or the particular laws that were broken.

But what the researchers discovered was completely the opposite; the case related facts had little bearing on the judge’s decision, what mattered the most in determining whether the decision would be in the criminals favour or not was simply the time of the day when the hearing was scheduled. The study shows that if the criminal’s case was presented before the judge at the beginning of his workday, the likelihood of the judge passing a ruling in that criminals favour was about 65% but as the day progressed this percent gradually dropped until the judge was thoroughly exhausted and denied all applications. However, the researchers also observed a pattern wherein there was a sharp spike in the likelihood of getting a favourable judgment back to about 65% after the judge returned from his lunch break and then once again the success rate of getting a favourable ruling would gradually continue to drop.

This trend held true for more than 1,100 cases regardless of the crime committed. The study suggests that the criminal was much more likely to get a favourable response if their parole hearing was scheduled in the morning or immediately after a food break than if it was scheduled near the end of a long session. This is a classic example of how mental fatigue affects our decision-making ability.

Every action that we take in our life on a daily basis is a decision that we make (not taking any action is also a decision) thus decision fatigue can happen to us as well. This is the prime reason why successful people often recommend others to wake up early and work on achieving their personal goals before they take on their daily mundane duties because since the mind is sufficiently rested it will be at its peak performance level as opposed to in the evening when the mind and body is thoroughly exhausted and in such times instant gratification like binge eating, pornography, masturbation or inanely watching the same movie again seems like a lucrative recourse. When you start your day on a positive note with a clear sense of purpose you are very likely to continue to feel good throughout the day.

“A plan must be at the beginning of all work; reflection comes before any action. When you decide, four ways are open before you: good, evil, life and death. Your own decision makes the choice.” – Sirach 37:16-17

When I learnt about this concept and the implication of mental fatigue on our habits, I tried to recall a few of the past incidents where I had unwillingly relapsed back into my old habits and was able to clearly see a common pattern – in all my past relapses, I was indeed thoroughly exhausted physically and mentally which caused me to cut some slack and venture into forbidden territories. There are several ways in which you can protect yourself from making bad decisions and wearing out your willpower owing to fatigue, below mentioned are three tactics which I have personally tried and have had some good positive results.

  • Plan your following day on a preceding night and make a list of your goals for the next day and write those goals down on a piece of paper. In the book “Eat that Frog”, Brian Tracy writes of how the subconscious mind is activated and how it formulates a plan to achieve those goals when we work on a list in the previous night. Keep that paper in front of you to stay focused and tick off on the particular task after you have accomplished it. As much as possible, try to avoid making impromptu decisions and cause unnecessary burden on the mind.
  • Attend to your important and complex task first thing in the morning or after your mind has received sufficient amount of rest and leave the trivial affairs for the end of the day. Leaving important task at the end of the day when the mind is exhausted may add to the mental fatigue that may have an adverse effect on the output.
  • Simplify your life as much as possible. It’s good to have choices but causing an unwanted burden on the mind to consistently decide the best alternative in unimportant tasks may lead to mental fatigue. Read about minimalism.

Willpower is not an immutable characteristic that is linked to your DNA, as is commonly believed. You can very well enhance your willpower and achieve or abstain from anything as long as you learn to organize your daily life and strive to simplify it with an aim to avoid mental fatigue, because when the mind is tired it will automatically gravitate towards the easiest instant gratification available. Stay strong!


Pornography addiction is a real threat. Thousands of people suffer in silence, families have been destroyed, women have been objectified, careers have ended, etc. because of this problem. Yet, we consider pornography as entertaining and educating. Rather than helping the person suffering overcome the issue, society prefers to make them a laughing example. In my blog, quitfapnow.com, I discuss habit transformation techniques to help people overcome this problem and lead a happy life.

Similar Posts

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below