This Study Helped Ruin Any Discipline I Thought I Had

Discipline Fatigue is a Myth

I read an article a few years back describing how "willpower is somewhat like a muscle in that it can get fatigued if overused," in The New York Times. After reading that statement, unfortunately, I started using it as a mental excuse for every time I skipped a workout, ate a box of cookies, or forgo working on a project in favor of binging on a TV show.

Somehow, I let that one sentence influence how I viewed discipline and willpower. "Oh, I used up all my willpower by getting up at 5 AM all week, so I'm going to sleep until mid afternoon and veg out on the couch," I'd think.

Really, it was a convenient excuse for not having to do the hard stuff, like work on actual projects that'd advance me to long-term goals; instead, I had an easy out: Oh well, discipline is zapped for the day! Time to slack off.

I don't know how I missed Willpower: It’s in Your Head, also from The New York Times, which explains, “that willpower can indeed be quite limited — but only if you believe it is.”

Yes, indeed. That was me. And, “when people believe that willpower is fixed and limited, their willpower is easily depleted.” Again, in my mind it was like a piggy bank: once empty, no discipline to be had, but somehow it was refilled by sugar and disappearing into the internet. 

“It turns out that willpower is in your head.”  

Unfortunately, I didn’t find that follow-up article when it was published in 2011. But fortunately, I watched a video last week, seen below, that also dives into the subject that willpower is not a diminishing resource.


My mindset has changed toward discipline (a term I use interchangeably with willpower) and I’m already seeing the benefits in my life.

It’s hard to tell yourself no when you’ve always granted yourself the excuse, “Well, I worked overtime for the last week, I can’t possibly say no to a night of drinking even though I really wanted to get up early to work on my script idea,” (or whatever the running inner dialogue of the day—mine seem to hinge around personal work, sugar, and exercise).

Now, I tell myself that my willpower is indomitable—an unending reservoir—as I set my alarm three hours earlier than needed.. And yes, that mindset does help me get out of bed...most of the time.

Greg Walton and Carol Dweck, the authors of the article above, write: “But when people believe that willpower is self-renewing — that when  you work hard, you’re energized to work more; that when you’ve resisted one temptation, you can better resist the next one — then people successfully exert more willpower.”


Does it always work, telling myself my willpower is boundless? Nope. Not at all. There’s always the daily struggle of what I want now versus what my future self actually needs or wants. But somehow, knowing that my imaginary discipline piggy bank isn't empty (and doesn't even exist as a mental concept!), helps me realize it really is all up to my mindset.