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Developing Willpower, by Jason Shen

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.

Building 20 "The Thing in the Hall"

On Wellington Street

I keep thinking back on how things have progressed the last few years. The horrors I witnessed, and the things I lost. The things I gained. I find it...hard, to explain just what has been going on with me. What it feels like to have your children taken away, to have your wife die, to watch her suffer over a period of months. I tell my therapist about it, and he nods and listens. But I know he doesn't get it. No one seems to get it. Even my new wife, Margaret.

She tries to. I am really fortunate to have her. I really doubt I would be as okay if I didn't have her. We don't really talk about what happened, though she knows probably more about it than most. It just isn't part of our lives. She does her work and I do mine, and when we get home we simply spend time together. Neither of us talk about our day. We mostly read. But I saw a look in her eyes today I haven't seen in a while. She looked concerned.

I have tried to play the role of the good husband. I have kept my hours at work and I get her small trinkets that remind me of her. And I listen...but I can see it when she looks at me. The thing we don't discuss is becoming an issue and I am struggling with how I am going to tell her. What happened before my wife died. What led to the nightmares.

It is easier to write it down.

I think most people who have read this assumed that the nightmares came from what happened with my wife. It did in a way, but the nightmares started before that. Her suffering just made it worse. And really, what happened to her is what matters now. It is what bothers Margaret.

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