The pop science press has made a lot of ego depletion over the past few years, and like others I know, I’m not completely sure the majority report is right-on, although I generally stay out of the fray. Regardless of the reason why, I do know my willpower is often not as strong as I’d like it to be.
One of the ways I fight faltering self-discipline is by setting easy rules, which allow reason to re-take the driver’s seat. This can manifest in many ways, but I’ll start with avoiding small acts of self-sabotage. Some examples of this would be grabbing a cookie when I am noodling over how to word something, watching a TV show when I have something I should be reading, or doing email instead of working on a brief due in an few hours. In these cases, it is easy to give in, particularly if it’s after a full day of exercising good discipline.
So, my rule in these scenarios is to wait 15 minutes before submitting to temptation. It’s easy to wait a short period of time, because I haven’t actually said “no” to myself, and if I still want to veer off my chosen path after the allotted time has past, I do so without guilt. Often my will power strengthens in the meantime, but even if it doesn’t, at least I have avoided instant gratification. This is a small victory, sure, but I’m okay with that.