Question from a reader -
I had a discussion yesterday with one of my friends about what we wanted to do with ourselves and we both have dabbled in numerous thing but nothing has stuck. He said if what we were doing was truly something worth doing, we'd be devoted to it. We simply haven't found what we want to devote ourselves to. Do you believe devotion follows interest or devotion is generated with work? I don't feel tied to anything, one moment I'll be playing a finger style piece on the guitar then whip out the electric and start playing funk. Maybe I'll start reading Ram Das, try learning HTML then go exercise. However, at the end of the day, I still feel errant and listless. Perhaps because I feel like I feel that ultimately, my actions are futile or are directionless.
"He said if what we were doing was truly something worth doing, we'd be devoted to it" - well, I'm not so sure that's the case. I know plenty of people who have causes they really believe in, but still have a hard time focusing on and dedicating themselves to it.
"Do you believe devotion follows interest or devotion is generated with work?" I think being interested in something helps a lot, but isn't enough. I know lots of people who deeply believe in something and passionately enjoy working on it, but yet still can't get the work out of themselves.
Actually, in some circumstances, it's harder to work on something you really believe in, because you get your identity wrapped up in it. Like the writer who can write plenty technical operations manuals because he aims to get it to just "good enough," but can't make progress on a novel because he's aiming for perfect and none of the words seem right.
Jason Shen has achieved tremendous success in athletics, technology entrepreneurship, writing, and living an outstanding life. To promote his recent GiveGetWin deal on The Science of Willpower, he sat down to tell us how he started learning about willpower, the state of what's known scientifically about how willpower and the brain work, and how you can start improving your life right away by implementing a tiny habit, thinking and systems, and using some powerful thinking tools. Enjoy:
Developing Willpower by Jason Shen, as told to Sebastian Marshall
Willpower has been an undercurrent in my entire life. In gymnastics, you have to use your willpower to overcome your fear of an activity and go for the skill you want, to get over the fear, to push yourself to finish your conditioning and strength training a part of you doesn't want to…
It didn't come automatically to me. When I was a student, I wasn't automatically self-disciplined. There were actions I knew were useful, like doing my homework in one session without getting distracted, or not throwing clothing on my apartment floor. But I wouldn't always do them, and I didn't know why.
I started to learn those answers during a student initiative course at Stanford called The Psychology of Personal Change. That's when I first started reading academic papers on the topic. In academia, willpower and self-discipline is often called "self-regulation," and in 2009 I started to get really serious about it from an academic perspective -- and saw gains from it in my personal life.