Prasanna Natarajan

Practicing when you don't want to practice

The ‘willpower is like a muscle’ analogy says that I have the highest willpower after I wake up, and as I use it up for various activities it will weaken. That’s why at the end of the day I feel useless and justified to retire and watch tv or indulge in any of my favorite dopamine inducing media consumption.

That’s why habit pundits advice you to line up your goal-oriented activities all in the morning. Like, “work on your side project before your day job”, “exercise first”, “plan the day/week” etc.

But what if I could stretch my willpower, jus a little bit, during those tired and useless moments?

What if instead of reading a fiction or watching youtube in the night, I could read about one of the many new things I’d always wanted to learn? Like currently I’m interested in learning how to make browser extensions. But I’m spending time on reading the relevant docs and writing samples only in the morning. But I could just as well continue reading those docs in the night. I don’t even have to sit to code, just read the docs in ipad instead of watching some videos.

Another idea would be to time-limit these willpower stretching activities. I’d always wanted to learn hindi, but never got around to finish that book for years. At the end of the day I could setup a timer, for just 15 minutes, and grind through the motion of going through 1 or 2 pages in the book. This way I’m getting in some hindi and stretching my willpower.

Of course, these stretching experiments shouldn’t be at the cost of my sleep. If I really feel tired and useless, and physically unable to focus, then I should shut up eyes first.

As days go by, I feel like each day has less and less time. It’s elusive and slips out of my hand when I don’t pay attention to it. But I want to learn and do more before my time’s up. I see people like Steve Yegge learning and mastering so many computer languages and then also blog like a novelist and wonder how he gets all the time. But of course, just a quick look into my daily routines show that I do have time except that I’ve been using them inefficiently. This is one way to reclaim those time.