It’s Not Magic

willpower is not magic, it’s not a superpower – we all have it, and as it turns out we all have a limited amount of it at any given time, and it can be easily exhausted.  So the good news is that people who seem more “disciplined” than you really don’t have superpowers – they just know how to spend their willpower, like money, to get the most bang for their buck.  More good news – you can learn these tricks too.

Decision Fatigue

The process of exhausting your willpower is called “decision fatigue” and it is a well-documented and measurable phenomenon.

A study of judges making parole decisions showed that the more decisions they made, the more likely they were to keep someone in prison (i.e. opt for the status quo) than to change their status, regardless of the circumstances of the offense.

Our brains are wired to opt for the status quo, and making a decision to change takes mental energy which can be easily exhausted.

This is why preparing a healthy breakfast the night before, packing your workout bag and laying out your workout clothes by your bed all make it much more likely that you’ll eat healthy and workout in the morning.

You can simply wake up and perform a series of mechanical pre-planned habits without making any decisions – and voila! you’re working out.


So if you only have a limited amount of willpower, why not leverage what you’ve got?  Interval training, by means of a concept I’ll call “micro-motivation”, allows you to leverage your willpower to the max.

The concept of micro-motivation is as astonishingly simple as it is effective and interval training leverages the power of micro-motivation to the hilt

Connecting To Your Future Self

Studies have shown that establishing a psychological connection to your future self is a powerful motivator to keep you working toward your goals

For example, people who are shown aging images of themselves are more likely to elect to save more for retirement.  Studies also show that it’s actually easier to stick to a goal if you visualize it in days rather than months or years, because the  shorter time intervals connect you more directly with your future self, who has already reached the goal

Taking this fact, along with the fact that It’s easier to connect psychologically over a short time frame than a long one, leads to an obvious conclusion.

You have lots of future selves, not only after reaching a goal, but all along the way, and it’s much easier to establish a connection to those that are closer to you on the timeline.

micro-motivation is simply a technique to connect with all of those future selves along the pathway toward a goal.

4 ways to establish the connection for a burst of motivation

If you’re having trouble getting started, try only committing to finishing the first interval

It will be only a matter of seconds in the future so the connection will be easy.  Imagine your future self after having completed that one interval.  Allow yourself the option of quitting after one interval – seriously

Getting through one interval will seem a lot less intimidating than getting through the whole workout, and the connection to your future self, 30 seconds from now will be much easier to establish, because of proximity on the timeline.

It’s astonishingly simple, but watch what happens once you’re there.  From the inside of the interval routine, things look very different.  You can now connect to your next future self, slightly further along the timeline, rather than seeing the entire timeline as an intimidating task.

If you find your motivation lagging during the interval routine

Try committing to just one more interval.   Tell yourself,”one more and I’ll quit – so I’ll make it a good one”.  Chances are that once you power through a single interval, you will feel good for not having given up a minute ago, and you will want to pursue that feeling again.  Also, you will be closer to the end, allowing you to connect more easily with your future selves, who have finished 1 more interval, 2 more intervals, etc..

go super-micro

If the above methods fail, go super-micro.  Break the next interval down into tiny steps and just convince yourself to do one of those steps.  For example, if I have a jumprope interval, I’ll just tell myself to turn the rope 3 times.  Once I get going, the same forces as listed above kick in and the rope turns start falling like dominoes, until I gt through the interval.  Usually I’m so happy at having made it through one that I just forget about my wanting to quit and I just keep going without skipping a beat.

If the all three methods fail, try self compassion and give yourself a rest

I build random rest intervals into my workouts.  But there are times when I feel weak, fatigued, breathless, sore, or just plain unmotivated.  At those times, I practice self-compassion, which is treating yourself as you would treat someone you love, and I give myself a rest.  I tell myself that I’ll come back energized and stronger, and I usually do. The most important thing is to allow yourself to be human and stop beating yourself up.


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