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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.


On Inner teacher

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” Rumi.

Me: Dear beloved teacher, what is ego? If it is a source of fear and insecurity in my life, why does it exist?

Teacher: Dear student, your ego was your first answer to the question “Who am I?” I think it was an attempt to validate your existence and quantify the value of your existence. In a way, you could say that your ego was your first step in your journey of self-discovery, your starting point. It was an identity cobbled together from the various roles, labels, and beliefs you inherited. Through time and experience, you may have come to believe that that identity is who you truly are.

You can think of the ego as your initial hypothesis and you as the scientist who has tasked herself with testing it. Throughout the day, you conduct consistency checks. True or false: Am I loving? Am I intelligent? Am I beautiful? Am I respectable? Each interaction is a new experiment that provides new information to interpret. Some of it is consistent with your current belief system and some not. Your work is to revise your hypotheses when you receive new information that does not support your initial ones.

The fear and insecurity that we feel associated with our ego does not result from the ego itself but from our resistance to revising this initial notion of ourselves. If we cling to the veracity of our initial hypotheses, then there is no point to conducting the experiments. The richness of the data will be lost to our dogma. Conflicting information will continue to perturb us over and over again, because we will continue to detect an inconsistency, but not progress any closer to our truth.

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