Briefing Notes: Powering Willpower

Published: March 1, 2020

“Repair requires transformation. Pristine is less beautiful than broken.” — Evan Puschak


In our highly distracting world, the willpower to stick to our plans and work on our goals is a superpower. (insert favorite superman or wonder woman pose here)

A popular theory is that we have an internal reserve of mental energy — the fuel for our willpower — that gets depleted throughout the day. Every decision, obligation, or chore we complete draws from that internal tank. By the end of the day, that tank’s close to empty. Hence the reason it’s so easy to give in and eat that piece of cake, skip the gym, or ignore the work required to move our side hustle project forward. So, we hit reset and start over tomorrow.

This theory — called ego depletion — is widely accepted because, in the 90s, psychologist Baumeister and his colleagues put it to a test. And they published an oft-cited research work that proves we do indeed have this deplete-able tank of willpower.

But new studies suggest we’ve been thinking about willpower all wrong, and that the theory of ego depletion isn’t true. 😱

Even worse, holding on to the idea that willpower is a limited resource can actually be bad for us, making us more likely to lose control and act against our better judgment.

For one, spreading the ego-depletion hypothesis is making people less likely to actually accomplish their goals by inserting the idea in the first place, giving them reason to quit when they could otherwise persist.

Further neuroscience research suggests that willpower is not a finite resource but instead acts like an emotion. Just as we don’t run out of joy and anger, willpower ebbs and flows based on what’s happening to us.

Which means, just like our other emotions, we can manage it — instead of us being held hostage by some limited mental energy tank.

Bottom Line
If a lack of willpower has been a challenge, try and shift your thinking around it. Fact of the matter is, we give up on tasks that don’t engage us. We can power through unenjoyable tasks for a while, but we’ll never be our best if we ignore what our feelings are telling us.

When a lack of mental energy is chronic, we should listen to our willpower just as we should listen to our emotions.


Lack of willpower isn’t always the reason we get stuck. Sometimes, it’s because we don’t know enough about what we need to do next. We need more information!

Switching from a corporate career to self-employment meant I was in for a steep learning curve. Back in the day, this would have meant investing loads of money on a business program and going to school nights and weekends. Thankfully, the world has evolved and we now have access to JIT training and bite-sized programs that fit our busy schedules. I couldn’t have done it without the online classes at CreativeLive.
If you’re starting out in your self-employment or business ownership journey, you’ll want to review the list of best-selling business basics classes.* Good luck on your new venture!

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  • Looking for online business and product ideas that you can sell online? Here’s a list of 50, from journals to skincare products to socks. Socks?

“Repair requires transformation. Pristine is less beautiful than the broken. The shape of us is impossible to see until it is fractured.”

  • Audio: Ray Romano on Off Camera With Sam Jones. Discussing the identity crisis he experienced after the end of his super-successful sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond. How this existential void became a blessing in disguise that led to a reinvention of himself as an actor.


“Stop chasing better outcomes. Start focusing on better processes.” — Shane Parrish of The Knowledge Project


We’re moving toward a world where subscribing to things (instead of outright ownership) is the norm. Case in point. Nissan is rolling out a new business model based on car subscriptions. Pay a monthly fee and swap out your car when you want. Though not the first (Porsche and Cadillac tried it too), Nissan’s price point at $699 is a whole lot more accessible than the other two companies at $2100 and $1500 a month respectively. Are you seeing signs of this business model shift in your industry?


… when, not so long ago, you’d pay money and buy ringtones? Nowadays, silence is the only acceptable sound for that dang phone. Adding this to the #thankgoodness pile.


Lee Chaix McDonough is launching a new podcast – Coach With Clarity – on Monday, March 2nd. This is a podcast for coaches, creatives, helpers, and healers ready to align their coaching skills and business sense to create and sustain a profitable business and fulfilling life. Thank you for your support!


I excel at giving myself a rational, logical way out of things I said I want to do. 🤭  Nir Eyal’s article on willpower struck a (jarring) chord and something I want to pay attention to going forward. Put it this way, it’s not going to be something I’ll be using as an excuse anymore.

Best wishes for an awesome week ahead. Send over any comments, superpowers, recycled ceramics, and discarded ringtones.

Cool beans,
Lou Blaser


A former management consultant and IT leader, Lou Blaser is the editor of Briefing Notes and the host of the Second Breaks podcast. She is also the author of Break Free: The Courage to Reinvent Yourself and Your career. Lou’s work is focused on helping experienced professionals navigate an evolving work landscape so they can continue their impact and relevance in a changing world.

The world of work is changing.

Stay smart about it.

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