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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.

The Tipping Point of Physical Fitness

On Runner's Ravings

In my experience, there are two thresholds that someone looking to become fit needs to pass under:

First, you need to get started. Simple, yes, but it’s often the hardest part. Any barriers you have to working out, like driving to the local gym, increases the likelihood that you’ll sit on the couch and watch reruns of Lost and eat junk food instead. Us runners have a natural advantage over gym-rats in that we’re able to tie our shoes and run out the door. Even in subzero temperatures you can reduce your time freezing by running to the nearest warm treadmill. By the time you get there your body temperature will have comfortably insulated you from the cold and your body will be ready for action.

Some suggest setting up your gym at home, if you can afford the proper equipment. This breaks down all the barriers and gives you no excuses for reneging on the daily workout. That being said:

Second, you need to fit it into your daily routine and find ways to obligate yourself to stick to it. Some ideas:

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