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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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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