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Table of Contents
A Word from the Author......................................................................................... 3
Why Self-Control is Important............................................................................... 5
The Willpower Muscle............................................................................................ 7
Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time.................................................................... 8
The Physiology of Self-Control............................................................................. 10
The Cornerstone Habits of Willpower.................................................................. 12
Habit #1: Exercise................................................................................................. 14
Habit #2: Sleep...................................................................................................... 16
Habit #3: Nutrition............................................................................................... 19
Habit #4: Meditation............................................................................................ 21
Habit #5: Decluttering.......................................................................................... 25
Willpower Tactics................................................................................................. 28
Tactic #1: Close & Open Loops............................................................................. 29
Tactic #2: Manage Your Decisions....................................................................... 32
Tactic #3: Optimize Your Environment...............................................................35
Tactic #4: Use Commitment Devices................................................................... 38
Tactic #5: Deep Breathing..................................................................................... 41
The Next Step: Where to Go From Here..............................................................43
Sources.................................................................................................................. 45

A Word from the Author
Hey there!

My name is Patrik Edblad and I’m a writer, mental

trainer and personal coach.

I wrote this little book to share some very powerful

and practical ways to strengthen your willpower so that
you can beat procrastination and make massive
progress on your goals.

I’d like to point out that all the habits, tactics and
tools I write about in this book have been invented,
developed and tested by people much smarter than me.

I don’t claim to be an expert and so all the credit for anything you might find
useful goes to the researchers who made it possible.

The book is free and, if you know anyone who might find it helpful, they can
get their own copy at

If you like what you read, you can find more science-backed advice on how to
increase your productivity, happiness and health at Selfication

Better yet, hop on the newsletter right now if you haven’t already done so,
and I’ll notify you the minute a new article goes live.

Let’s get to it!

There are two ways you can read this book. You can either passively read,
nodding along as you go, and think to yourself, ’Yeah, I should probably do that’
or you can choose to make the strategies and tactics a regular part of your life.
Study them, experiment with them, tweak them and make them your own.

You are about to pick up some very powerful tools in order to become a more
effective person. But if you’re going to benefit from them, you’re going to have to
put them to use.

Are you ready to do this thing? Yes? So am I! Let's begin by taking a look at a
classic experiment that perfectly illustrates why willpower is such an important
trait to own.

Why Self-Control is Important
The fact that self-control is important is intuitive. If we couldn’t exert some
level of control over ourselves we would fall helplessly into the path of least
resistance, indulging in instant gratification and never make any progress
towards worthwhile long-term goals.

To fully understand how critical willpower really is, I invite you to take a
quick trip back in time to the late 60s and early 70s when Psychology Professor,
Walter Mischel and his colleagues, carried out a series of studies (1) on self-
control in children using a very clever and simple test. The experiment went
something like this:

One of the researchers presented a preschooler with a plate of yummy stuff

such as marshmallow. The child was then told that the researchers had to leave
the room for a couple of minutes. Before the researcher left the room the child
was given a simple choice:

1. Wait until the researcher returned and be given two marshmallows.

2. Ring a bell. In this scenario the researcher would return promptly to the
room but the child would only get the one marshmallow.

Besides the entertainment value of watching the children struggling and

inventing all sorts of techniques for fighting their overwhelming marshmallow
urges, (you can see a replication of the experiment here), the researchers
uncovered some very important insights into what separates successful people
from the rest of the crowd.

After conducting these studies Mischel and his colleagues developed a

framework which explained our ability to delay gratification. What they
proposed was a ”hot-and-cool” system to demonstrate why willpower succeeds

or fails.

• The ”cool system” is the 'angel on your shoulder'. This is the

'thinking system' that takes into consideration knowledge about
sensations, feelings, actions and goals. It reflects and reminds of what’s
important to you – such as why you shouldn’t eat the marshmallow!

• The ”hot system” is the 'devil on your other shoulder'. It’s in

charge of quick, reflexive responses towards certain triggers such as
gorging on marshmallows without considering the implications.

What happens when willpower fails is that exposure to a ”hot” stimulus

essentially overpowers the cool system and causes an impulsive action. Different
people are more or less susceptible to these hot triggers and whether or not you
are may influence your behaviour throughout your life.

When Mischel returned to talk to the children, now teenagers, who had
participated in the marshmallow test, he found something groundbreaking.
Those who had waited longer in the marshmallow test as preschoolers were
more likely to have higher SAT scores. Their parents also rated them higher in
planning, handling stress, responding to reason, having self-control in
frustrating situations and concentrating without being distracted.

In fact researchers have since found that, when comparing students’ grades
with nearly three dozen personality traits, self-control turns out to be the only
one that predicts a college student’s grade point average better than chance. It
has also been proved to be a far more efficient way of predicting college grades
than the student’s IQ or SAT score (2).

Mischel’s classic experiment has been replicated many times over and the
conclusion is clear:

If you want to be successful in life, what makes the difference is your ability
to delay gratification.

The Willpower Muscle
At this point you might be thinking to yourself, “OK, well, that's great for
people who were lucky enough to be born with great willpower, but what if I'
not one of them? Am I doomed to procrastination and laziness for life?”

The short answer to this is an empathetic “No, you are not”. Modern research
has been making some very interesting findings about how self-control works
and today we know that willpower in many ways works like a muscle (3) with
physiological counterparts in the brain that you can exercise just like any other
muscle in order for it to become stronger.

In the next couple of pages you'll learn about the five most important habits,
proven by research, to create a rock-solid willpower. I'll show you how easy
it is to make them a regular part of your everyday life so you can become a
person of strong resilience and resolve.

After going through these lifestyle changes we will dig into five hard-hitting,
scientifically proven tactics that you can use to effectively manage and increase
your self-control as you are going about your day.

Sound good? Let's do it!

Manage Your Energy, Not Your
Before we get into the habits and science-based strategies concerning
willpower, I want to share a big idea to keep in mind as you read this book.

I learned this idea from Tony Schwartz of The Energy Project (4) and the best
way to illustrate it is to have a look at some rather shocking results from a recent
study (5) in which a team of psychologists investigated whether or not judicial
rulings are based solely on laws and facts.

What these researchers found was that a judge was more likely to give a
favourable ruling about 65% at the beginning of the day. Then, as the day wore
on, the chances of getting a favourable ruling steadily dropped to 0%. After
lunch, the chances for a favourable ruling once again shot back up to 65%, only
to once again drop to zero at the end of the day. And this was no fluke accident.
The trend held true for more than 1,100 cases, no matter what the crime(!!).

So, what was going on here? As I mentioned earlier, willpower is a lot like a
muscle. If you put it through hard work, it will get tired and this is exactly what
was happening to the judges in the study. As they kept on making hard decisions
throughout their day, their willpower got depleted. As their willpower energy
wen't down, so did the judge’s inclination to debate whether or not someone was
trustworthy enough to leave prison. If you feel too tired to determine whether or
not someone is guilty, it makes sense to keep everyone locked up.

What we can learn from this is that willpower isn't something you have
or don't have; it's something that rises and falls throughout the day.

This leads into the big idea I want to share with you; you should manage
your energy and not your time. The reason for this is that time is a finite
resource, while energy is a different story.

If you want to be highly effective, get to know yourself. At what time of day is
your energy level high and when is it at its lowest?

Schedule your most demanding creative work when your mental alertness is
at its highest. Plan your workouts when your body is the strongest and then add
repetitive and non-demanding tasks at times when your energy is low.

If you remember this idea as you dig deep into the habits and tactics in the
upcoming pages, you'll have a much easier time adopting them and making
them work effectively in your own life.

Tools & Resources

• This circadian rhythm illustration gives some great hints for how you
should schedule your days. These times are going to vary depending on
the time of year, individual differences and so forth. In general, however,
mental work fits best in the morning and physical work in the late

The Physiology of Self-Control
When you are faced with a threat, attack or some kind of harmful event, your
body launches into an ancient fight-or-flight response that, as the name
suggests, rapidly prepares you to fight or run for your life. This was a very
helpful automatic response when sabre toothed tigers were looming in the
bushes but not quite as helpful when you’re stressed about your day at work.

Suzanne Segerstrom is a psychologist at the University of Kentucky and

studies how different states of mind, like for example stress and hope, influences
the body (6). What she has found is that, just like stress, willpower has a
biological signature.

When you need self-control in a certain situation, this sets in motion a set of
changes in your brain and body that help you resist the temptation you're facing.
Segerstrom calls these changes the 'pause-and-plan' response, which is
essentially the opposite of the fight-or-flight response.

The pause-and-plan response allows us to notice our habitual response and

consciously choose a more empowering one. The fight-or-flight response does
the opposite and crushes most of our chances of exhibiting self-control.

Stanford psychologist, Kelly McGonigal, explains how this works on a

physiological level; when faced with temptation, your brain needs to bring the
body on board together with your goals in order to “put the brakes on your

The prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain located just behind your
forehead which is responsible for, among other things, regulating behaviour.
This brain region communicates your need for self-control to lower brain
regions that, in turn, regulate heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and other
automatic functions.

This is how your pause-and-plan response is initiated and drives your body in
the opposite direction of the fight-or-flight response. Instead of speeding up,
your heart slows down and your blood pressure stays normal. Instead of
hyperventilating like a madman, you take a deep breath. Instead of tensing
muscles to prime them for action, your body relaxes a little.

The tight coupling between self-control and physiology makes it possible to

tell when someone is struggling with willpower just by listening to the
consistency of their heartbeats. When faced with a craving like a slice of
chocolate cake, our heart rate increases and heart rate variability (the variation
in the time interval between heartbeats) decreases.

McGonigal explains that the heart rate is such a good index of willpower that
you can actually use it to predict who will resist temptation and who will give in.
Studies have shown that people with a higher heart rate variability are better at
ignoring distraction, delaying gratification, and dealing with stressful situations.
They are also less likely to give up on difficult tasks, even when they initially fail
or receive critical feedback (7).

What we can learn from this is that, if you have a good pause-and-plan
response, this will result in beneficial physiological changes in your body, (such
as increased heart rate variability), which will provide you with more willpower
in order to fight off temptations.

So, to answer 'how to strengthen your willpower' is to ask 'how you can improve
your pause-and-plan response' and that’s exactly what we’ll dive into in the next
couple of pages.

The Cornerstone Habits of
Now that we k now that higher heart rate variability equals higher willpower,
we can start looking for ways to put ourselves in the resourceful and
empowering pause-and-plan response. Luckily for us, research has already done
the heavy lifting and today we know:

What increases heart rate variability – and therefore fills your willpower
reserves are things like:

• Meditation.
• Eating low-glycemic, plant-based foods.
• Exercise.
• Plenty of sleep.
• Spending time with good friends.

What decreases heart rate variability – and therefore drains your willpower
reserves are things like:

• Chronic pain.
• Stress.
• Lack of sleep.
• Junk food.
• Anger, anxiety, loneliness and depression.

Knowing this is very helpful in pinpointing the most effective habits you can
adopt and optimize to become a person with strong willpower, which is what we
will be going through in the upcoming pages.

Note: If, right now, you're thinking to yourself, “Hey man, I got this ebook
because my willpower is low and now you're asking me to take on a whole
bunch of new habits which requires what exactly? WILLPOWER?!!” I ask you
to bare with me.

Bear with me! I have good news for you!

This might seem like a Catch-22 situation where you would need to have
willpower to create willpower, but that is not the case. All the habits will
be coming with instructions showing how you can adopt them without hardly
using any willpower at all.

So without further ado, let's check out Habit Number 1!

Habit #1: Exercise
We all know the many health benefits of exercise, but what effect does it have
on self-control? To answer that question researchers, at Macquarie University in
Sydney, conducted a study (8) in which 24 non-exercisers between the ages of 18
and 50 were given free gym membership.

The researchers asked the participants to exercise only one day per week
during the first month and then three days a week during the second month. The
participants were tested throughout the study on various self-control activities
such as resisting temptations and persevering through challenging tasks.

The results were remarkable. After just two months of exercise all the
participants had increased their ability to resist temptation and persevere in
challenging situations. But that was not all.

Without any instructions from the researchers, the participants also

procrastinated less, felt more in control of their emotions, reduced smoking,
alcohol and caffeine intake, saved more money, ate less junk food, began eating
a healthier diet, watched less TV, spent more time studying, splurged on impulse
purchases less and were more likely to be on time for appointments. All these
activities came as natural ripple effects from the habitual exercise.

How to Build This Habit

Note that for a full month, the participants in the study only exercised once a
week. This illustrates an important point: It's not necessary, or even advisable,
to go full throttle when you're building your exercise routine. If you do that,
you're very likely to burn out and quit. If, instead, you instead start off at a very
easy pace and focus on the habit rather than the results, you're much more likely
to create an exercise routine that lasts. Here's how:

1. Start too light
The number one reason people quit their exercise routine is because they
start out too hard and end up burning out or even injuring themselves. Avoid
this common trap. Instead of starting too hard, start too easy. Make a rough
estimate of how hard and for how long you would manage to exercise at this
point in time and then do half of that or less.

2. Make tiny gains every week

Once you've started too light, the next step is to incrementally increase the
difficulty of your exercise with time. Let’s say you decide to jog for 5 minutes
every morning. Go ahead and do this for seven days, then add one minute to
your routine every week after that.

3. Don’t miss workouts

Instead of obsessing over the results, (getting stronger, losing weight, etc), let
the act of showing up become the focus of your exercise routine. Refuse to miss
any workouts. When you do this long enough, you'll change your mentality and
perception of yourself. You'll become the kind of person who never misses a
workout and when you hit this point, the results you were originally looking for
will inevitably come.

Tools & Resources

• The 7 Minute Workout is an research-based app containing 12 exercises
that can be completed in seven minutes and still achieve the equivalent
of an hour's workout.

Habit #2: Sleep
How much sleep do you need for your willpower to be strong? To answer that
question, we'll have a look at a study conducted by researchers at the University
of Pennsylvania and Washington State University (9).

The researchers began the experiment by gathering 48 healthy people who

previously had been sleeping an average of seven to eight hours per night. They
then split these participants into four groups and randomly assigned them into
different conditions:

• Group 1 had to stay up for 3 days straight without sleeping.

• Group 2 slept for 4 hours per night.
• Group 3 slept for 6 hours per night.
• Group 4 slept for 8 hours per night.

Groups 2, 3 and 4 were held to these sleep patterns for two weeks straight. All
the subjects were then tested on their physical and mental performance
throughout the experiment.

What the researchers found was that the participants who slept 8 hours
displayed no cognitive decreases, attention lapses or motor skill decline during
the two weeks. The groups who slept 6 hours and 4 hours steadily declined on
the measurements with each passing day. The 4 hour group performed the
worst, but the 6 hour group didn't do a whole lot better. This experiment had
two notable findings:

1. Sleep debt is cumulative. One week into the experiment, 25% of the
participants in the 6 hour group were falling asleep at random times
during the day. After two weeks, the same group had the same
performance deficit as if they had stayed up for two days straight (!).

2. You won't notice your poor performance. When the participants
graded themselves, they believed that their performance declined in the
first couple of days and then tapered off. In reality, they continued to
perform worse throughout the entire experiment.

According to Kelly McGonigal; “Sleep deprivation is a kind of chronic stress

that impairs how the body and brain use energy. The prefrontal cortex is
especially hard hit and it loses control over the regions of the brain that create
cravings and the stress response. Unchecked, the brain overreacts to ordinary,
everyday stress and temptations. Studies show that the effects of sleep
deprivation on your brain are equivalent to being a little bit drunk! The good
news is that any step towards more or better quality rest can be a real boost to
self-control. When the sleep-deprived catch a better night’s sleep, their brain
scans no longer show signs of prefrontal cortex impairment.” (10)

So, to summarize:
• If you sleep 6 hours a night for 2 weeks straight, you'll perform just as
poorly as if you had been awake for two days straight.
• You likely won't notice how much worse you are performing.
• More or better quality rest improves your self-control.

How to Build This Habit

1. Turn your bedroom into a haven for sleep
The ideal is pitch black dark, cool (65-70 degrees Fahrenheit/18-21 degrees
Celsius for most people) and quiet.

2. Create a “power down” ritual before bed

The light from screens (TV, computer, mobile phones) can hinder the
production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Make a habit of turning off your
screens one hour before bedtime and read a book instead.

3. Stick to a consistent sleeping schedule

Your body loves ritual. When you go to bed and get up at the same time every
day, you help your brain learn when to get sleepy and when to be wide awake.

The other habits mentioned in this ebook, such as proper diet and exercise
will also have a positive effect on your sleep (11).

Tools & Resources

• f.lux is an alternative option to turning off your screens before bed. This
app reduces the brightness of your screen closer to bedtime.
• 'Stimulus control therapy' is one of the most effective techniques for
insomnia management (12). This can be worth checking out if you have
trouble falling asleep.

Habit #3: Nutrition
Another very important factor for having enough willpower throughout the
day is your regular diet.

Do you remember the judges who gave more favourable rulings in the
morning and right after lunch? I’m not accusing these judges of poor eating
habits, but there’s a good chance that what they ate affected how their willpower
spiked and dropped.

This is because the food we eat heavily influences how much energy is
available for the brain throughout the day.

The idea here is pretty straightforward; to have sufficient energy available for
your brain at all times you want to eat foods that will sustain energy over the
long run. By eating these kinds of foods, while avoiding those that make your
energy spike and fall, you’ll have more willpower available when you need it.

How do you know what foods sustains energy well? You use the Glycemic
Index (GI) to guide you.

The GI is a measurement of how much a certain carb boosts your blood sugar.
The higher the GI of a certain food, the more it increases your blood sugar after
you’ve eaten it.

This is an important measurement number to learn about because in the last

15 years, low-GI diets have been associated with decreased risk of cardiovascular
disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, stroke, depression and a whole
host of other diseases (13).

So, in general, low-GI foods are good for you, not only because they will keep
you healthy, but also because they will help strengthen your self-control (10).

Some examples of low-GI foods are:
• Most vegetables
• Nuts
• Raw fruits
• Fish and meat
• Olive oil and healthy fats

Generally speaking this would fall into a Paleo Diet or Whole Food Diet.

How to Build This Habit

If you decide to change yours, I strongly recommend you don’t switch 'cold
turkey', especially if your new diet happens to be very different from what you’re
used to eating. Just like the exercise habit we covered a couple of pages back, the
most common pitfall in changing your diet is wanting to do it all at once and
then burning out.

Let your taste buds slowly adjust to your new diet. Add vegetables to one of
your meals. Pick just one high-GI food and cut it out. Eat a healthy snack in the

Make one small dietary adjustment every week and in one year you’ll have 52
tiny changes and one very healthy diet.

Tools & Resources

• The Glycemic Index site is a great resource for determining the GI of
different foods.
• The Glycemic Index Diet from WebMD is good place to start looking for
inspiration for your own GI diet.

Habit #4: Meditation
Imagine finding yourself alone in an empty room. You have nothing to
entertain yourself with except your thoughts.

How long do you think you would be able to spend in this room all by
yourself? For most people, the answer seems to be ”not for long”.

In a 2014 study (14) the participants were asked to spend 6 - 15 minutes just
entertaining themselves. No cellphones, books, TV or any other type of
distraction was allowed.

At first, the researches tried this out in a laboratory. In this setting, almost
50% of the participants reported that they ”Didn’t enjoy the experience”.

Next, the participants spent time alone with their thoughts in their home
environment. In this scenario, 36% cheated by checking their phones or
listening to music.

However, what was most surprising was that when participants were given
the option to spend time with just their thoughts or receive a small electric
shock, 67% of men and 25% of women chose to get the electric shock rather than
the alone time (!!).

What is it about being alone with our thoughts that is so excruciatingly boring
we would prefer an electric shock to sitting quietly for a couple of minutes?

The answer is that we are so accustomed to always doing stuff that we have
become addicted to it. If we’re not doing anything, we quickly start to feel uneasy
because we have this underlying assumption that pausing for a minute or two to
'just be' is lazy and unproductive but this is not true.

In order to be highly effective we need to have the ability to switch
between doing and being.

Tim Ferriss regularly interviews some of the most successful people in the
world and he estimates that about 80% of the people he brings onto his show
turn out to be regular meditators. When you look at what the science says, it
makes sense that successful people would choose this habit.

According to researchers, continual meditation creates actual physical

changes in the brain in the form of increased grey-matter density in the
hippocampus, which is an area known to be important for learning and memory
and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection.
There is also a decrease in grey-matter density in the amygdala, which plays an
important role in handling anxiety and stress (15).

These changes lead to (among many other benefits):

• Better ability to focus
• Less anxiety
• Increased creativity
• More compassion
• Better memory
• Less stress

… and, you guessed it, increased willpower. This is because meditation is a

very effective way to help your body activate the pause-and-plan response we
discussed earlier. In fact, it’s so effective that neuroscientists have found just 11
hours of meditation creates structural changes in the part of the brain
monitoring our self-control (16).

How to Build This Habit

Just like the previous habits, the key to forming a regular meditation practice
is to start small, be consistent and then build on your momentum.

1. Commit to just 1 minute every day. Remember, this is the key to

making the habit stick. If you want to, you can sit longer, but you only
commit to 1 minute a day.

2. Pick a trigger. The best way to remember this new habit is to attach it
to a behaviour that you already do every day. For example, your trigger
could be after waking up, after brushing your teeth, after you have
finished your lunch or after you arrive home from work.

3. Find a quiet place. Make sure you do your meditation somewhere

peaceful where you can have a minute to yourself. Early mornings are
usually a good time.

4. Sit comfortably. You can sit on the floor, on a pillow, a chair or couch.
As long as you’re comfortable, you’re good to go.

5. Focus on your breath. As you breathe in and out, follow your breath
all the way from your nostrils to your stomach and back. Sit with your
back straight but not tense. Look at the ground in front of you with a soft
gaze or keep your eyes closed. If it helps, count … one breath in, two
breath out, three breath in, four breath out, and start over when you get
to 10.

And that’s it! If you have a lot of intrusive thoughts stealing your attention
away from your breath, know that this is perfectly normal.

All you need to do is practice gently and non-judgmentally bring your

attention back to the breaths every time it wanders.

If you have to bring it back a hundred times, that’s what you do. Every time
you bring your attention back to the breath you are essentially doing one
exercise repetition in your mental gym for self-control.

Every time you hit your mental gym, your willpower muscle will get stronger.

Tools & Resources

• Headspace has a great 10 day free introductory course to meditation.

Habit #5: Decluttering
Back in the 1920s the psychologist Kurt Lewin noticed that a waiter in the
restaurant at which he was eating at had better recall when it came to
remembering orders that had not yet been paid.

The waiter could readily recall the orders as long as they were still unpaid,
but, the moment the payment was completed, he could no longer remember the
details of their orders.

If the waiter was serving you he would know exactly what you ordered, but if
you were to ask him just a minute after paying, he would have absolutely no
recollection of what you had.

This phenomenon was later studied by one of Lewin's students called Bluma
Zeigarnik. She created a theory about what was going on in the waiter’s head and
took it to the lab to test it out.

She gathered together a group of people and asked them to do around twenty
little tasks such as solving puzzles or stringing beads. She then interrupted some
of them when they were halfway through the task.

Afterward she asked them which activities they remembered doing. What she
found was that people were about twice as likely to remember the tasks in which
they had been interrupted compared to those they got to complete (17).

This phenomenon came to be called the ’Zeigarnik Effect’ and some sixty
years later a researcher, named Kenneth McGraw, together with his colleagues,
put together a study to put it to the test (18).

They asked their participants to solve a really tricky puzzle but interrupted
them and told them that the study was over before they had a chance to finish.

Despite this, nearly 90% of the subjects continued to work on the puzzle.

This is referred to as the Zeigarnik effect; our ”tendency to experience

intrusive thoughts about an objective that was once pursued and left
incomplete” (19).

The entertainment industry is very aware of this effect and they is very good
at taking advantage of it. If you have ever wondered why it’s so popular to
include a cliffhanger at the end of a TV show or movie trilogy, now you know! It
is put in there to get you hooked. As long as you don’t know to the ending, you’ll
have intrusive thoughts about it.

I’m not going to spoil the ending of The Sopranos if you haven’t seen it, but it
is perhaps the greatest cliffhanger ever created. It’s been years since I saw it and
I still have intrusive thoughts about it from time to time.

So, what does all this have to do with willpower? Well, as soon as you take on
a new task, you create an open mental loop that will need mental energy until it
has been closed. In order to save your mental energy, you need to remove the
things in your environment that cause unwanted open loops to occur.

How to Build This Habit

Don’t worry, if you happen to be a fan of The Sopranos, I’m not going to ask
you to stop watching. In my humble opinion, that show is so awesome that it’s
worth a little Zeigarnik Effect. What’s more important is that you deal with the
energy-draining stuff that causes open mental loops every day.

How many icons do you have on your computer desktop? How many apps in
your phone? Documents on your desk? Unread mail in your inbox? Unfinished
tasks on your To Do-list? I could keep going but you get the point.

The amount of stuff you have in your environment is directly related to how
many open loops you’ll have in your head. Clean environments appear to

increase self-control. Messy environments seems to increase open loops.

The key to increased willpower then, is to clean up your environment. Here’s


Schedule five minutes every day for decluttering. Decide beforehand

on what area you will concentrate on; delete old icons, programmes and apps
from your devices, file or throw away old documents, unsubscribe from email
newsletters you don’t read, delete unimportant things from your To Do-list.

The beauty of the Zeigarnik Effect is that once you get started on your
decluttering, your brain will perceive that as an open loop and you’ll more than
likely want to keep going for more than five minutes.

Tools & Resources

• FlyLady has tons of great resources for decluttering.

Willpower Tactics
We’ve now covered the five cornerstone habits of willpower. If you
successfully adopt exercise, proper sleep, good nutrition, meditation and regular
decluttering into your life, the research shows that you will inevitably strengthen
your willpower muscle and save your mental energy for when you need it the

The next couple of pages will be all about ’Willpower Tactics’. These are
specific actions that you can take when you are in the process of trying to
accomplish a certain task or goal.

Curious? I’m ready when you are! :)

Tactic #1: Close & Open Loops
The first tactic will be familiar to you as it expands on ’Habit #5:

This one is all about managing the open and closed loops that are caused by
the Zeigarnik Effect.

You see, just because open loops take up energy doesn’t mean they are
necessarily bad. Just like you will want to close unnecessary loops, you will also
want to open helpful loops.

This is why, when you are embarking on a new project, you will want to get
started as soon as possible. If , for example, you are writing an essay for school,
you should always begin on day one. Why? Because the Zeigarnik Effect will kick
into action and create an open loop.

What happens then is that your brain will get to work on your project right
away and start scanning the world for possible clues on how to close the loop. It
starts to selectively look for the solution to your project and you’ll begin to see
and hear all sorts of things related to it in your daily life.

If, instead, you postpone (or should we say, procrastinate on) starting your
project, your brain won’t have an open loop to solve and, therefore, it won’t go
looking for solutions.

This is why educational researchers recommend that you take a practice exam
before even cracking open the books on a new course. The aim is not to see how
well you perform, but to prepare your brain for how exam questions might look
and to get it to start looking for clues on how to solve them.

How to Use This Tactic
In order to take advantage of the Zeigarnik Effect, the key is to open wanted
loops and close unwanted loops.

If you want to open a loop, make sure to get started right away. If you tend to
procrastinate on your projects, this is even more important. Make sure you start
on day one. Don’t rob your brain of the chance to begin processing and looking
for solutions to your project.

If you want to close an open loop, you can either make sure it doesn’t show up
in the first place or get it out of your head. We have already covered how to make
sure it doesn’t show up in the first place (declutter your environment). But what
do you do with the intrusive thoughts that keep popping into your head and
ruining your concentration?

You get them out of your head and into a trusted system so you know you will
come back to it later. This system will consist of three parts:

1. A Calendar - You will be using your calendar to write down tasks that
have to be completed by a particular date and/or time.

2. A To-Do List - This will be your brain dump for tasks that needs to get
done but don't have a particular deadline yet.

3. An Idea List - This is where you will immediately write down ideas and
insights, as they come to you, for later reflection.

In order for this system to work, it’s crucial that you schedule a time every
week for reviewing your lists and move the things you want to act on from your
to-do list and idea list to your calendar.

Making use of a system like this enables you to get intrusive thoughts out of
your head so you can free up more mental energy for more important tasks.

It’s all about using your brain for the right things such as creativity and
problem solving. Reminders belong in your system.

Tools & Resources

• Google Calendar & iCal are great digital calendars.

• Wunderlist is a powerful and versatile to-do list app.
• Evernote is an awesome tool to save ideas, insights, research material
and notes.

If you want more in-depth advice on how to use these tools effectively, check
out my Guide to Effortless Workflow.

Tactic #2: Manage Your Decisions
When author, Michael Lewis, was preparing an article featuring President
Obama, the two spent a period of six months in close company.

Lewis got to participate in the President’s basketball games, sit up front in the
Air Force One and talk with him whenever he had a free moment.

On one occasion, Lewis presented Obama with this scenario: ”Assume that in
thirty minutes you will cease being President. I will take your place. Prepare me.
Teach me how to be President.”

Obama answered: ”You need to remove from your life the day-to-day
problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. You’ll see I
wear only grey or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to
make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other
decisions to make. You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to
routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia”. (20)

It’s interesting that the number one piece of advice Obama gives for 'How to
be President' is perfectly aligned with the research on a concept known in
psychology as ’Decision Fatigue’.

The research shows that making too many decisions depletes your willpower
’muscle’ (21). Some studies even suggest that making repeated choices depletes
your mental energy, even if these choices are mundane and relatively pleasant

Just like Obama says, every decision you make throughout the day seems to
draw from a limited resource of decision-making energy.

If you use this to your advantage, you will not only make better decisions, but

also reserve willpower for when you need it the most.

How to Use This Tactic

Once again, this goes back to the Parole Board Judges we talked about earlier
and the idea of 'managing your energy instead of your time'.

This tactic is all about optimizing your ’decision-making energy’. Here’s how:

1. Make less unimportant decisions.

If you wake up every morning asking yourself what to wear, what to eat for
breakfast, if you have time for a quick workout, how to get to work, and so on,
you will have quickly used up a lot of willpower before even starting your day.
Just like Obama says; you need to routinize yourself.

For most of us, our days are filled with unforeseen events that make them
near impossible to routinize. However, even though our days are usually a bit of
a mess, we usually have some control over our morning and evenings. That is
why I highly recommend these times to set you up for a productive day:

• Use an evening routine to plan out and prepare the next day. This
will save a lot of time and mental energy when you get out of bed the
next day.

• Use a morning routine to prepare your body and mind for the day.
Spend the first 30 minutes of your day doing a quick workout,
meditating and reviewing your schedule for the day. This way, you will
always know exactly what to do when you wake up and you will set
yourself up for a great performance.

2. Make important decisions at the right time.

Create a schedule that allows you to make your most important decisions at
the times where your mental energy is at it’s highest. As we learned from the
Parole Board Judges, this likely means early morning and right after lunch. You

can then tackle less important decisions at other times of the day.

3. Simplify your life.

If something is not important to you, get rid of it. Excessive clutter is not only
a big cause of stress, but also a big burden for your willpower muscle. The less
unnecessary stuff you have laying around, the less unimportant decisions you
have to make about it.

Tools & Resources

• Further reading on how to create a morning and evening routine.
• Check out Zen Habits, Becoming Minimalist & Be More With Less for
inspiration on how to simplify your life.

Tactic #3: Optimize Your
Dr. Brian Lansink is a Professor in the fields of Consumer Behaviour and
Nutritional Science. In an interesting experiment, he gave movie-goers free
popcorn that was either fresh or two weeks old. The participants were divided
into two groups. One group were given a medium bucket and the other one a
small bucket.

After the participants had finished watching their movie, their bucket were
collected and weighted. The participants were then asked to rate the taste of the

What Dr. Wansink found was that the bucket size influenced the participants
a lot. If the participants were given a large instead of a medium sized bucket of
fresh popcorn, they ate 45% more.

More surprisingly, when people were given stale popcorn, they still ate 34%
more when the popcorn came from a large bucket compared to the medium
sized one.

Even when food isn’t particularly tasty, large packages and containers can
lead to over-eating.

Several of Wansink’s previous studies also show that larger portions prompt
people to eat more, not because of a ’clean-your-plate’ mentality, but because
large packages and portions suggest larger consumption norms: “They implicitly
suggest what might be construed as a ‘normal’ or ‘appropriate’ amount to
consume”. (23)

These studies cleverly illustrate a very important point about human

behaviour, namely that it is highly influenced by your surroundings. So much so

that behaviour design expert, B.J. Fogg, claims that ”There's just one way to
radically change your behaviour: radically change your environment.”

• If you have big plates in your house, you’re likely to eat more.
• If your sofa faces your TV, you’re likely to spend your time watching it.
• If you have cookies on the table, you’re likely to grab one.

If you want to change your behaviour, the most effective way to go about it is
to change the 'default setting' in your environment. Want to eat less? Get smaller
plates. Want to socialise with your family instead of watching TV? Arrange your
furniture so that you face each other instead of the TV. Want to stop eating
snacks? Ban them from your house.

Get your environment to work for you. Make your desired behaviours as easy
as possible and your unwanted behaviours as hard as possible. When you do
this, you won’t need to use your willpower as much anymore. Instead, you can
safely rely on your surroundings to guide you towards your goals.

How to Use This Tactic

Write down your most important long-term goals. Then take a moment to
consider how your environment is affecting them. Is it helping you reach your
goal, or is it working against you? Consider how you could:

1. Make your desired behaviours as easy as possible.

2. Make your unwanted behaviours as hard as possible.

Then get to work on implementing these changes.

Tools & Resources
There are several great apps available to remove energy-draining clutter from
your digital environment and help you work more productively:

• Quicksilver is a launcher utility app for Mac OS X that gives you the
ability to perform common, every-day tasks rapidly and without thought.
After installing this app you’ll never have to have your computer desktop
cluttered with icons again.
• OneTab is an extension for Google Chrome and Firefox that converts all
of your open browser tabs into a list. A very handy way to remove clutter
and free up more computer memory.
• Adblock Plus is an extension that blocks annoying ads from your web
• Bartender let’s you organize your menu bar apps in Mac.
• Readability turns any web page into a clean view for reading on your
computer, smartphone, or tablet.
• News Feed Eradicator for Facebook is a Chrome extension that replaces
your Facebook news feed with an inspiring quote.
• Freedom is an app for Mac that allows you to lock yourself away from the
Internet so you can become more productive.
• SelfControl is an app for Mac that lets you block your own access to sites
and mail servers for a set amount of time.
• Anti-Social lets you target and block websites. Works for both Mac and
• StayFocusd is a Chrome extension that allows you to restrict the amount
of time you can spend on time-wasting websites.

Tactic #4: Use Commitment
According to journalist, Stephen Dubner, and economist ,Steven Levitt, a
commitment device is "a means with which to lock yourself into a course of
action that you might not otherwise choose but that produces a desired result”.

Commitment devices can be a simple and effective method of changing your

own behaviour in a big way. A great example of this comes from a team of
researchers who conducted a study (25) within a large company of more than
3,000 people.

The researchers began the experiment by sending these employees

questionnaires asking when they were going to have their annual flu shot.

The participants were divided into three groups and each group was given a
different version of the questionnaire.

• The first group was asked to provide the date on which they were going
to get their flu injection. They might have said something like; ”I am
going to get my flu shot on May 4th”.

• The second group was asked to provide the date and the time they
were getting their flu shot. Their answer might have been; ”I am going to
have my flu shot on May 4th at 2 p.m”.

• The third group received a message that only reminded them about
taking their flu shot this year but were not asked to provide any date
or time.

The results were very interesting. Compared with the third group, the people
in the first group were more than twice as likely to follow through and get their
flu shot. The people in the second group were more than four times (!!) as likely.

In other words, the more specific people were about what they were going to
do, the more likely they were to actually do it. The mere act of committing to a
specific time and date made it much more likely that a participant would show
up for their flu shot.

How to Use This Tactic

When I started out writing this ebook, my progress was pretty slow. Then one
day, my designer, Sarah, sent me the beautiful cover that you can see on page
one. Knowing that she had put it a lot of hard work and that the book would
have such a fantastic design when it was finished made me work much harder
from that point forward. The cover became a commitment device.

Similarly to the last tactic, what commitment devices come down to is to

make desired behaviours as easy as possible, while making
unwanted behaviours as hard as possible. The idea is to pre-commit to a
certain course of action, and it's up to you to decide how extreme this
commitment will be. Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing

• Put some money on the line. Pay $100 dollars to a friend if you don’t
reach a certain goal on time.
• Use ’temptation bundling’. Tie together two activities - one you
should do but may avoid and one you love to do but isn’t necessarily
productive. For example, only watch your favorite TV show while
• Buy your vices in small packages. Limit the portion sizes of sweets,
cigarettes, junk food, alcohol etc.
• Buy smaller plates. Limit your food intake by changing the plate size.

• Buy an annual gym membership. Pre-commit to your workout
regime over the long haul.
• Get a workout partner. It’s much easier to show up at the gym if
someone is waiting for you.

Take a moment right now and consider what commitment devices you could
put to use in order to give yourself the proper incentives to reach your long-term

Tools & Resources

• StickK allows you to create commitment contracts and, if you want, put
some money on the line. If you don’t meet your goal, they will send your
money to a charity or organization you don’t like!
• Beeminder combines self-tracking and commitment contracts. Your
challenge here is to keep all your data point on a Yellow Brick Road or
they take your money.
• Forest is a clever way to stay off your phone when you should be
working. The app lets you plant a digital tree whenever you want to
focus. The tree will then grow during the next 30 minutes but if you leave
the app, the tree will die. Stay committed and you’ll plant a forest.
• The Pomodoro Technique is a popular way to pre-commit to a certain
amount of time for work and breaks (usually 25 minutes of work
followed by a 5 minute break).
• keeps track of all of your habits and measures your progress. If
you want, you can get a personal coach within the app. Check out my
coaching profile to find out how to get a 3-day free trial with yours truly!

Tactic #5: Deep Breathing
The final tactic I want to share with you is a short, simple, powerful and very
practical one that you can put to use every day.

As we’ve talked about earlier, the amount of willpower available to you at any
given moment is directly linked to what is going on in your body.

If you’re in fight-or-flight mode, your willpower will be very limited, but if

you’re in the pause-and-plan response, you’ll have much more self-control at
your disposal.

One of the ways in which the pause-and-plan response affects the body is by
increasing heart rate variability which, in turn, causes slower breath.

This works the other way around, too; when you slow down your breathing,
you increase heart rate variability which creates a pause-and-plan response.

How to Use This Tactic

Whenever you are feeling an urge, temptation or impulse putting a strain on
your willpower, pause for a minute and follow the sequence:

Breathe in for 3 seconds —> Pause for 1 second —> Breathe out for 5 seconds.

Repeat this cycle five times and you will alter your mental state in less than a

This little exercise is a great way to activate your prefrontal cortex (the
command centre of your brain) and increase heart rate variability.

Also it's an excellent exercise for dealing with any kind of stress and anxiety.

Tools & Resources
• Breath Pacer is a breathing guide app designed to help you reduce stress
and get deeply relaxed through adjusting your breathing.

The Next Step: Where to Go From
If you’ve made it this far, you should pat yourself on the back. You’ve just
picked up some very powerful tools for becoming a more effective person. Good

Now it’s all about putting these tools to work for you. I suggest you start by
looking at the cornerstone habits of willpower. Rate how well you’re doing in all
of these areas on a scale from 1-10. That way, you will get an overview of what
your problem areas are and where you should put in some effort first.

The beauty of getting to work on one of these habits is that they tend to have a
ripple effect on the other areas. For example, if you start meditating, you’ll likely
start sleeping better, which gives you more energy to exercise, which will cause
you to want to eat better, which will give you more energy to declutter your life
which in turn continuous this virtuous cycle.

Also take a minute to revise the willpower tactics and reflect on which one(s)
you can put to use today to make better progress toward your goals. The more
you experiment with them, the more you’ll learn about what works for you and
the more effective you’ll become.

Thank you for reading this book. It was a lot of fun (and a lot of work) to
write. If you found it helpful, I’d be very grateful if you shared it with someone
who could benefit from it as well.

They can get their own copy here:

Also, if you’re not on the newsletter yet, make sure to sign up right now for
more science-backed ideas on how to increase your productivity, happiness and

If you would like some personal attention in reaching your goals, check out
my coaching profile to start a free 3-day trial with me.

I’m happy to respond to any questions, feedback or comments you have a

about this book, my blog or my coaching. Send me a message and I’ll get back to
you as soon as possible.

Keep rocking!


1. Delaying Gratification
2. Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength
3. What You Need to Know About Willpower: The Psychological Science of Self-
4. The Energy Project
5. Extraneous Factors in Judicial Decisions
6. Pause and Plan: Self-regulation and the Heart
7. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What
You Can Do to Get More of It
8. Longitudinal gains in self-regulation from regular physical exercise
9. The cumulative cost of additional wakefulness: dose-response effects on
neurobehavioral functions and sleep physiology from chronic sleep restriction
and total sleep deprivation.
10. The Science of Willpower
11. Diet, exercise and sleep
12. CBT – Stimulus Control
13. What is the Glycemic Index
14. Just think: The challenges of the disengaged mind
15. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density
16. Mechanisms of white matter changes induced by meditation
17. On Finished and Unfinished Tasks
18. Undermining the Zeigarnik effect: Another hidden cost of reward
19. Zeigarnik Effect
20. Obama’s Way
21. Ego depletion: Is the active self a limited resource?
22. Making choices impairs subsequent self-control: A limited-resource account of
decision making, self-regulation, and active initiative.
23. Bad popcorn in big buckets: portion size can influence intake as much as taste.
24. The Stomach-Surgery Conundrum
25. Using implementation intentions prompts to enhance influenza vaccination
26. Commitment Devices: Using Initiatives to Change Behavior

Thank You
Finally, I'd like to give a shout out to all the people who made this book possible. They are:

My Friends:
Sarah Moore
Anna Geraghty
Henri Junttila

The Writers:
James Clear
Tony Schwartz
Charles Duhigg
Leo Babauta
David Allen
Stephen Dubner & Steven Levitt
Jeremy Dean
Gregory Ciotti

The Researchers:
Walter Mischel
Roy Baumeister
Daniel Kahneman
Suzanne Segerstrom
Kelly McGonigal
Kurt Lewin
Bluma Zeigarnik
Kenneth McGraw
Brian Wansink
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
B.J. Fogg
& All of the other researchers and colleagues who's work this ebook is based on.

Do You Need a Designer?
If you liked the cover of this ebook and would like one of your own I warmly
recommend my good friend and designer Sarah Moore:

I’m a design-loving book nerd who writes for the thrill

of it … and also because it’s my job.

My company New Leaf Writing helps small business

owners and solopreneurs create authentic copy that
reflects their true values + content marketing strategies
that get them noticed.

In my off hours I moonlight as a designer, wife and

mom of two, young adult fantasy novelist and exercise
nut. If you want to work together, head to my site and
learn more.

You can get in touch with Sarah here.