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.
"While I'm in the dressing room five minutes before I come out, I'm breaking my gloves down, I'm pushing the leather to the back of my gloves, so my knuckles could pierce through. When I come out I have supreme confidence. I'm scared to death. I'm afraid. I m afraid of everything. I'm afraid of losing. I'm afraid of being humiliated. But I'm confident. The closer I get to the ring the more confident I get. The closer, the more confident. The closer the more confident I get. All during training I've been afraid of this man. I think this man might be capable of beating me. I've dreamed of him beating me. For that I ve always stayed afraid of him. The closer I get to the ring the more confident I get. Once I'm in the ring I'm a god. No one could beat me. I walk around the ring but I never take my eyes off my opponent. Even if he's ready and pumping, and can't wait to get his hands on me. I keep my eyes on him. I keep my eyes on him. Then once I see a chink in his armor, boom, one of his eyes may move, and then I know I have him. Then once he comes to the center of the ring he looks at me with his piercing look as if he's not afraid. But he already made that mistake when he looked down for that one tenth of a second. I know I have him. He'll fight hard for the first two or three rounds, but I know I broke his spirit. During the fight I'm supremely confident. I'm making him miss and I'm countering. I'm hitting him to the body; I'm punching him real hard. And I'm punching him, and I'm punching him, and I know he's gonna take my punches. He goes down, he's out. I'm victorious. Mike Tyson, greatest fighter that ever lived."
Before you step into your own ring, where are your eyes? You keeping your eyes on him, or are you looking down?