Overcome the willpower myth

This post is sponsored by Tempur-Pedic because we think you deserve to get your best night's sleep every night.

I’ve been reading a lot about willpower to find out how to get more. It turns out that we only have a very little bit, and we cannot be demanding it of ourselves all day long because that would exhaust our supply and make us nuts. Which is, of course, what I do.

But I have watched the farmer for a few years now, and I see that he substitutes three things for willpower which allows him to seem to have willpower beyond his actual willpower reserve.

Here they are:

1. Rigid schedule
It came to me when I started to understand the ebb and flow of the pigs.

There are about 500 pigs on the farm at any given time. Someone who does not do routine well—someone like me—would say, I’ll feed the pigs later. But the Farmer gets up every morning, at 6am, eats breakfast with us, and then feeds the pigs. And he’s blown away by the fact that every single morning I think we need to make a fresh decision about what we are going to do that morning.

He is like, what? Are you kidding? We’re eating breakfast and doing chores.

So then I pretend to have a schedule but really just sort of hope for willpower and watch it flutter away while I do things like let the kids play videos instead of music practice. Or I schedule a conference call when I’m supposed to be writing. And really, I never write at the same time every day anyway. If I did, then surely I’d have more regular posts on this blog. Which I have never been able to do. Despite wanting and promising myself and my editor that I will.

2. If… then thinking
The Farmer exhibits another skill that all how-to-have-willpower gurus say you must have: If.. then.. thinking. You know that expression, when the sun shines, make hay? He does that. Literally.

He cuts hay when he thinks the sun will shine, and he bales the hay — that’s what he’s doing in this picture — the minute the hay is dry, and there is no complicated decision-making process about whether he should read the new issue of New York magazine instead.

On the other hand, I am tortured by the problem of what I am supposed to be reading vs what I am actually reading. He is rarely tortured because there is no room for tortured thoughts in his schedule.

He has so many if-then statements that are an internalized guide to his life. The New York Times explains this as using behavior modification rather than willpower. And after being with him for a few years, I find that I internalize those behaviors as well. I know, for example, when he takes cattle to market (farm euphemism for killing them) we all wake up earlier and eat breakfast earlier. I don’t lay in bed considering my options.

So I am trying to implement more if-then statements in my life. Like, if I’m having an emotional breakdown then I stay away from bagels. That would be a good one for me.

3. Accurate personal assessments
The problem with coming up with how I want to structure my life is that I have to see where things really are falling apart. The farmer thinks I have a fantasy life of how much structure I have in my life, but really, I know I’m all over the place.

We always like to read about what we know a lot about. Like, I like to read about career management. Of course, I’ve read enough to last a lifetime, but I’m still fascinated. Like Chris Anderson points out that Malcolm Gladwell says you need 10,000 hours of doing something to become an expert. And after three years at a job, you’ve put in your 10,000 hours. So you’ve mastered it. It’s time to move on. What a great argument for job hopping.

The Farmer likes to read about willpower. Because he has so much. Or he looks like he has so much. So he also read that people have obfuscated views of what their life is really like. (To be clear, the Farmer is not the type of guy who would use the word obfuscate in a sentence, but he is the type who would ask what it means, so we are a good pair.) Anyway, people who do not have good self-discipline, which I think is the cause of not having willpower, are people who have an obfuscated sense of their days.

The Farmer told me, for example, that maybe I should write down every day that I run the hill outside our house. I wanted to tell him to shut the [ ] up, but I have internalized the rule if the Farmer is in the conversation, then that word is off limits. So I ignore him.

But I confess that when Tempur-Pedic sent me the Fitbit I was enthralled. It tracks sleep patterns and exercise patterns, both of which are always cited as key elements to a self-disciplined life. So I started checking things out. I can see why people say that when you keep track of what you are doing toward your goal, you reach your goal faster.

I can see that, because to get the full benefit of the Fitbit, I would need to enter a lot of data, which I would only do if I were really really committed to improving all those metrics in my life. Sadly, I think I am more oriented to buying a quick fix. So, for example, I can tell you that when I had a bunch of disposable income, I bought a Tempur-Pedic mattress and absolutely loved it and it’s a lot more fun to spend money to get a good night’s sleep than to collect data about getting a good night’s sleep.

So, maybe you think I sound hopeless. But I don’t think I am. Because reviewing all the data points at the Fitbit web site made me think I’m going to keep track, really keep track, of how often I run the hill. Because it feels really safe to have an if-then rule in life rather than searching for willpower.

And also, I want to tell you something: When the Farmer is gone, (which is almost never, but still, sometimes he has to see a friend or something,) I am in charge of the farm. And sometimes I find myself looking forward to that moment, just so I can feel what self-discipline without willpower feels like: If the sun goes down then the chickens go back to the coop.


99 replies
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  1. Scott
    Scott says:

    True. For me this brings to mind parenting – which is damn hard – but it is really amazing what you can do when you don’t allow yourself (or when society does not allow you) to have a choice.

  2. Clinton
    Clinton says:

    I certainly agree about the tempur-pedic. It’s the best purchase we’ve made in the past 10 years. [Their “ask an owner” commercial…so true.]

  3. Clinton
    Clinton says:

    oh – and thanks for the three ideas. if I could accomplish 50% of what I WANT to do (forget what I NEED to do), I’d be thrilled.

  4. chris Keller
    chris Keller says:

    I like variety, Penelope, and YOU are on record as liking “interesting”. Seems to me that these 2 likes are or can be at war with (self) discipline and willpower. We like to change it up, and the Farmer cherishes routine and predictability.

    So, we have frequent bouts of feeling conflicted and agonizing about this and that.

    Not only that, but you depend upon originality and fresh thoughts and you (must) cultivate creativity. Another war.
    With routine and predictability. Don’t you think?

    Just saying . . . it is not our nature to do the willpower and self-discipline thang. If we want the balance between willpower/self-discipline and spontaneity/creativity, it will always be a struggle.

    To commit to the struggle is a form of self-discipline, however . . .

  5. CCS
    CCS says:

    I actually think this could be a textbook example of what a sponsored post should be. It is clearly stated at the outset, the post itself is informative and interesting, and the product is of interest to me (probably a fairly typical reader of this blog.) I like it.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I’m really happy to hear you say this. Because I say no to tons of sponsorship requests that I think would be bad for the blog. it’s nice to hear you think I used good judgment with this one.


      • Aisha
        Aisha says:

        Definitely do sponsored posts.

        This was great.

        You give away so much great advice for free and I am sure your blog brightens many people’s days, especially those who are lost like me.

        You deserve to make some money from your blog. And surely your readers are mature enough to applaud that?

    • Kathy Berman
      Kathy Berman says:

      Completely loved the ad post.I’m 70 and in the market for new bed. Plus I read you everyday–you’re on my homepage with gmail-Huffington Post-30 boxes. Love your blog.

    • Sarah R.
      Sarah R. says:

      I agree! The worst thing ever would be to pretend as if it wasn’t sponsored. Just state it up front, be concise and entertaining, and be done with it.

  6. emily
    emily says:

    When I was unemployed I obsessively organized my days into creative categories: Monday was music day, Tuesday was reading day, Wednesday was art day and then repeat until adventure day on Sunday. Every morning I woke up with a sense of purpose and this alone made me very happy. Sadly this ended after three months when I got a job!

    These days I’ve tried the trick of writing down the three things I have to do each day and then doing them as soon as possible. The enjoyment comes not so much from the accomplishments themselves, but from the guilt-free activities that come after the three things are complete. On a bad day, the activities could be: make bed, eat breakfast and write a nice email – but that usually gets me out of my funk enough to do one or two other things that are worthwhile.

    Also – over the past three or four months I’ve been trying the 750words.com challenge of writing 750 words every day. Most months I almost complete the challenge – aside from one or two days when I either completely forget or somehow make it impossible for myself by going out after work and not making it home until after midnight. Whatever part of me that doesn’t want me to succeed is very tricky, indeed.

  7. Lori
    Lori says:

    I would only quibble that you’ve met your 10,000 hours after three years on the job. It’s a rare job where you get to devote yourself to what you actually do for the full 8 hours a day. If only.

    I’m guessing that 10,000 hours would be accrued more slowly depending on how often your job interrupts you, distracts you, moves your cheese, etc.

    • Math Teacher
      Math Teacher says:

      40 hours a week * 50 weeks a year (allowing for 2 weeks vaca) = 2000 hours. 10000 hours / 2000 hours = 5 years. And that’s if you spend a full 8 hours a day solidly working on what you are trying to become an expert on, which most people don’t.

      • Blake
        Blake says:

        It goes beyond that. Anders Ericcson, the source of the 10,000-hours-to-expertise claim, said this was 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, not merely experience. The vast majority of workers don’t even do an hour of deliberate practice a day. Ericcson and colleagues also claim it is impossible to sustain more than 4 hours of deliberate practice per day, so 10 years is the minimum amount of time necessary.

    • karelys davis
      karelys davis says:

      i know right!?

      I wanted to workout more regularly until I got good to the point of “challenging myself” but I just couldn’t stick to it.

      So I grabbed a schedule from my gym (they offer classes) and I arranged my off work hours around it.

      Once I made my decision that I’d go to the gym it was a bit difficult to undo that decision and change it up fast because then it meant I had to change the decisions set around it to accomodate something new.

      I skip the gym a lot more easily when everything is up in the air.

      I don’t read and research as much either when everything is up in the air. I do come to interesting conclusions but I do anyway when I am consistently accomplishing stuff.

      A rigid schedule gives freedom to have fun because necessary stuff gets done. And then it’s kinda cool to break off the routine once in a while.

      Otherwise I just feel scattered and scattered doesn’t feel good.

  8. Alex
    Alex says:

    I’ve recently read ‘The Switch’. In that book change is seen as three powers at play: rational (the willpower you talk about), emotional and environmental. Example. For some insane reason I decided I’m going to get everyday at 6am to go to the gym. Tried for a week and couldn’t. Too difficult to leave my warm bed at that time. Sooo, what I did is, I changed my environment rather than focusing on willpower. I set my alarm at 6am and put it on the floor far from my bed with a loud ringtone. I find that when I’m up to switch it off (cos it’s so annoying you wouldn’t believe it) I’m more likely to go. Yes, willpower is limited, but if you know how to act on emotions and environment you’re also more likely to give it a rest every now and then.

  9. Kara
    Kara says:

    This post is meaningful to me. I’m one of those people who is perceived by others to have willpower. But I don’t actually think I have willpower, instead I have tools and tricks to get around the fact that I don’t have willpower. The only problem with this is that it makes me feel like I’m faking it all of the time, which makes me question whether what I’m doing is real or just a circus act. I think I’m going to try to stop thinking that I fake willpower and start embracing the fact that I am good at the routines and the if-thens, and use them because they work for me. And maybe work on the accurate personal assessments, because my previous sentences are a clue to me that that’s a remaining problem!

  10. IMA2FOUR7
    IMA2FOUR7 says:

    Thank you! First of all I love the pigs!
    I was thinking about printing the post just for that picture alone, but then I read further. Now I need to print it out and post it next to my alarm clock so I can remember that logic should out weigh my emotional needy need to only do whatever I want everyday!
    Did I say thank you? P, I love the blog. Sometimes I feel like you are the inner voice I so so need to hear.
    Now I am getting off the computer to attend to the list.

  11. Vt. Foodie
    Vt. Foodie says:

    I think the rigid schedule is key, although I prefer to think of it as “routine” (and we Asperger’s folks love our routines). For instance, I do yoga every day, and believe me, I do not feel like doing yoga every day. But I made a decision a long time ago to practice yoga for 30 min. a day, so I don’t need to make that decision each day about whether I should practice or not. It’s already been made. Just as you say.

  12. A.R.T.
    A.R.T. says:

    I am new to your blog…love it. A recent work from home consultant, reading you helps me start my day with a smile. Thanks.

  13. Jon
    Jon says:

    10,000 hrs is 3 yrs only if you work 9-10 hrs/day every single day of the year. Most people work 240-250 days I would guess and if you figure a standard 8 hrs, that would be 5-6 yrs. Still plenty long enough in my opinion to do something before switching. I have worked for 7 yrs and I am in my 3rd different job. The last one I was in, I did for a little over 4 yrs and that was definitely the end of the line for me on that one.

  14. Bill
    Bill says:


    Correct me if I’m wrong, but am I right that your only income stream is “advertising” and “sponsorship” spots such as the Tempur-Pedic ad?

    Further, I believe that none of your startups have been successful as far as product sales go and the only income you have received are from exits, which you have kept private.

    How much did math.com exit for? What about the other one?

    When are you going to accept that your shares in Brazen Careerist are worthless? Are you trying to dump them?

    I’m not hating but I’m genuinely interested and I’d love a response!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Bill, I do still own a significant portion of Brazen Careerist. But how much the stock is worth or what will happen with it does not change anything about what I do on a day to day basis. I founded the company myself so of course I would do what the company needs me to do for the sheer love of the company and it’s mission. And I make a living now from other stuff while I sit on my stock and other people run the company day-to-day.

      So the questions you ask don’t really matter. What matters, I think, is how I live my life day to day, and where I think I’m headed…. Actually I think this is what matters for all of us.


  15. Lindsay
    Lindsay says:

    I was sour when I read the opening sentence about this being sponsored by whatever mattress company it is that’s paying you. But then I realized – I was just sour b/c I’m jealous. I’d totally write a blog post about damn near anything for some coin. I blog for free now…why not get paid?!

    Anyway, I feel like my eyes kept scanning the article for the “plug” rather than really reading & absorbing it. But I still love your blog and the points you make all the same.

  16. Hillary
    Hillary says:

    sigh. I love reading your blog posts. They make me feel not alone in my needing to wake up everyday and think I have to hand-design the day……every day. Like, “oh, yeah, we’re supposed to eat breakfast–and then what?”

    But this post also makes me feel good because it reminds me that even though I’m like this (and really hoping one day I’ll hopefully be more like the farmer) I am successfully living my life. It’s just the way I do things.

  17. ResuMAYDAY
    ResuMAYDAY says:

    This probably already exists somewhere, but I think you could create a side business of letting people stay on the farm for a week with different packages. Clients could: be coached by you on how to be a professional blogger; do nothing except take pictures of pigs and land; help out on the farm; a little bit of all of the above. I seriously think I would save up for that.

  18. Alice D.
    Alice D. says:

    This reminds me of my favorite productivity system–Zen to Done.


    Unlike GTD by Paul Allen, ZTD by Leo Babauta focuses on building habits one by one to conserve your willpower and then focus on getting the habit to actually stick.

    I tried GTD first (and ancedotally feel like many bosses favor this) but it fails when you can’t delegrate everything (ex. some parenting, stuff that is actually your job, tasks that you lack resources to delegate). You get so caught up in planning a fantastic day of stuff/goals to accomplish, and then actually fail to do any of it.

  19. Marti
    Marti says:

    One of the things I love about your posts are the links to interesting articles and other blogs.

    I have always said that pure will power is finite and that like good vodka, it isn’t much good diluted. You can’t spread your small will power supply all over your life. So work-arounds (one of my favorite catch-phrases lately)are what get you to where you want to go. And one of the best work-arounds is simple, pig-headed routine. I do what I do because I do it. I don’t explain it constantly to myself or to anyone else. I don’t pick it to death with whys and wherefores. I don’t agonize over whether I should be doing this or that because I am doing what I should be doing — I am doing my pig-headed routine.

    I don’t have To Do Lists, and Three Things, special computer apps to help me be organized and not forget stuff. I just get up in the morning and start doing my routine, chugging along in ‘get ‘er done’ mode. And it gets ‘er done without much wear and tear on my psyche. I am all about easy these days.

  20. michelem
    michelem says:

    Great post, with or without advertising. I so admire people with self-discipline/willpower, because I don’t think I have it. But then I remember that I quit smoking 28 years ago (2- 3 packs a day) cold turkey. If that isn’t willpower, what is?

    What I lack and what a lot of creative-types lack, I think, isn’t really willpower, it’s the ability to set up a workable structure, organize, and assess time realistically. If the structure is imposed – for instance, in a job situation – I can work well within it. It’s the executive functioning skills I lack.

  21. mbl
    mbl says:

    I love the general content of the post and your blog in general. However, from the moment I saw who was sponsoring this post my body went into PTSD mode. A few years ago I purchased one of their 4k+ mattress and, due to the off-gassing, endured 3 months of migraine-like headaches that a couple of Vicodin plus beer couldn’t even touch. I also had crippling lower back pain that I thought would likely be permanent.

    I’m hoping I can separate this message from the messenger and use your advice. I highly recommend Flylady who espouses the same tenets. However, I am still waiting for my willpower to kick in so I can implement them . . .

  22. Laura Howe
    Laura Howe says:

    I think another tip might be good clear ambitious but achievable goals, because it is so easy to skip something if you are only doing it for it’s own sake. For example, I’ve been running lately. Running is good. But if I skip a run, how does that change my life? It doesn’t. Only in context of my goals (right now I want to finish couch to 5k and run for 100 hours total; and then there is the greater goal of overall fitness which is so abstract that I only theoretically care about it.) does the run make a difference. If I skip a run, then I don’t get to mark it on the cool chart I made, and for that matter, it makes the next run harder which puts it in the context of my greater goal. That gets me going, even when ‘fitness’ and ‘routine’ do not.

  23. Sook
    Sook says:

    In Chinese Medicine it is said, that will power can easily be exhausted, and you really have to be careful only to apply it when necessary and only in the right dose. Will power is also the will to non doing, standing still and wait. I think many in the West think of will power an action-oriented act only.

  24. Kat
    Kat says:

    Does your family ever go away for the weekend or on holiday together? If so, who looks after the farm and does the million jobs that need to be done? That’s a lot of preparation, responsibility and pressure!

  25. Don B.
    Don B. says:

    I really liked the post. Didn’t realize the significance of the sponsor till I read the comments. I liked the description of the farmer’s willpower. If I were the farmer I would like this post. I define willpower as the ability to choose action when inaction seems easier and more attractive. A schedule helps get the action started even want the will is wanting. Don’t mind the sponsor post concept at all because it really was still a great blog and the sponsor was no distraction.

  26. eric plantenberg
    eric plantenberg says:

    Two thoughts – First, Blake perfectly described the actual basis of the 10,000 hr principle. I have no problem with job hopping. Let’s just be clear that “…after three years at a job, you’ve put in your 10,000 hours. So you’ve mastered it.” is complete bogus in all but very rare exceptions.

    Second. Your three points are spot on. I’ve climbed Everest, done IronMan and other things i love to do outside while running a company, and be happily married and be a dad, … people ask about where i find all my ‘motivation’ and willpower – which i don’t think i have any more than anyone else. I’ll now be directing them to this post – thanks!

    oh… Your plug for Tempur-Pedic worked well for me – i appreciate the good example.

  27. Matt
    Matt says:

    Although I’ve always had my own thoughts and comments about your posts, I feel this is the first one I can openly comment on:

    Where is the reference to “The Paradox of Choice”?

    You comment on the If-Then thinking and it sounds just like portions of that text when the author discusses creating rules for yourself.
    By making these predetermined rules, the farmer doesn’t have to make a choice each morning, because he’s already decided what needs to be done. This takes the apparent willpower he shows each morning, and turns it into an action that came from his already predetermined choice to do the same thing. You view it as willpower; he views it as a rule to follow. It’s one in the same.
    You’re describing your possible lack of willpower by comparison to the farmer and describe your choice to NOT make these predetermined rules (choices) because maybe you like to make those decisions, "Should I make hay when the sun's shining, or should I read the New Yorker?" It could also be that maybe you don’t want to have to make a choice. Maybe you decide to let the day run its course and you’re along for the ride to see what happens without any intervention of your own? Is that lack of willpower, or is it refusal to make a choice? Either way you answer that, it is an intriguing thought.

    I love this post and its relationship to that book. You may have not intended to make the connection, but I’ll give you this: You are consistent with your thoughts.

    • KTFoley
      KTFoley says:

      One of the things that might be worth exploring is how aptly the farmer’s if-then rules embody the principle that decisions are choices and choices have consequences.

      “If it’s sunny then we make hay” doesn’t spring from nowhere. It comes from a clear grasp of the consequences of doing that work when we can — or not. Doing it means that the livestock can eat next winter: security. It means that the hay can be harvested just as its protein content is at its highest: optimal return on investment. It means that the crop won’t go to seed, be flattened in a hailstorm or suffer mildew when the rains get there before the baler/roller does: loss prevention.

      Go enough practice rounds with the consequences of a choice, and the extended out logic can reduce itself to an if-then rule.

      Some of the best lessons from farm life are that choices for the future are as vital as the present (if not more so), that consequences of a choice are uniformly constant, and that when we choose we are as responsible for the consequences the affect someone or something else (livestock, crops, environment) as we are for those that touch only us.

      As a result, choosing to hay all afternoon in the broiling sun becomes easier than choosing to run the hill: the lessons of consquence are obvious as we consider leaving the tractor in the barn “just this once.” They’re more elusive as we consider leaving the sneakers in the hall for the fourth day in a row.

      Clarity kicks willpower, every day of the week.

  28. Diana
    Diana says:

    i like the last picture. How it looks like the firey sun is even brighter than the white of my screen. of course this is not possible, and it has to be an illusion. Did the photo editor (aka Melissa) have a go at it?

    i like the blog post too.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      It’s a pretty safe bet that if the photo looks amazing, Melissa had a hand in it.


  29. Sandra
    Sandra says:

    I enjoyed your post and immediately clicked your link over to the Fitbit website and bought one of those gizmos. I sincerely hope you get some sort of referral fee. I am a very inconsistent sleeper and thought that this product might help me analyze that. It’s the first thing I’ve seen that seems to track actual sleep patterns (outside of a sleep clinic), so it seems to be worth the $99 to me if it does what it claims.

    Thanks for sharing this information! I would not have likely found it otherwise.

  30. Paul
    Paul says:

    I think it’s important to point out here that Select Comfort >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Tempurpedic.

  31. Dave Stokley
    Dave Stokley says:

    No doubt that these things are all really helpful when it comes to being productive, but the problem seems like they are just as hard to do as simply having willpower.

    1. Nobody likes being on a rigid schedule, and most peoples’ lives are too crazy for it anyway.

    2. The if-then is usually not powerful enough for most people. Instead of “if I get an email, then I respond to it” most people will say “if I don’t respond to this email right now, they’ll email me again in a week, so who the fuck cares.”

    3. Even harder than the other two, and seems to beg the question. If we could more accurately and consistently asses ourselves (assuming we care about that assessment), we would have plenty of willpower.

    The key to willpower, for me at least, is having to do things that are important enough to you that you want to do them so you don’t need some super-human willpower. If your job/life requires you to do all these things that you need to summon astronomical amounts of willpower to do, you should probably stop doing those things and make a change.

  32. Polly S.
    Polly S. says:

    RE: Bagels
    If emotional breakdown then NOT Bagels

    If you take out the NOT and replace Bagels with something positive i.e.

    If emotional breakdown then Gym

    I think you will be more successful. It’s too hard to jump over the hurdle of NOT because it leaves too many possibilities open.

  33. Steve C
    Steve C says:

    Equating Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule with three years in a job shows that you had better read(or re-read) OUTLIERS.
    And just showing up for 10,000 hours doesn’t cut it either, nor does practicing the wrong things, or the wrong way, for 10,000 hours. You missed the point on that one, Penelope.
    If you really want to get something done, successfully, organization is the key. I think that is your(and the farmer’s) message here.

  34. Paul Hassing
    Paul Hassing says:

    Hi, P. You seem to be learning a lot from The Farmer, which is ace. I’d love to know what, if anything, he has learned from you. I get the sense of a really beaut yin/yang thing, but I’m missing the yin. My apologies if you’ve covered this question in posts predating my readership. Best regards, P. :)

  35. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    You’re very creative with this sponsorship … and I really do appreciate the heads-up and straight-forward announcement right at the beginning of the post. I was initially thinking mattress and then was surprised that it was an exercise and sleep tracker. I checked it out on the link provided and learned something new today – sleep patterns. So now you may be able to get a complete picture of how your sleep is affecting your life and vice versa by integrating your journal entries with these patterns.
    Now only if you could get that stove you want with a sponsorship by creating a cooking section on this blog and tying it all together with career advice. Now that would be really, really creative.

  36. Judy
    Judy says:

    I totally enjoy reading your posts, P, as I see myself so often in your musings. Today’s post made me chuckle with empathy: I feel it’s a big coup that I’ve kept up a routine in my showering process for a whole year…and I’m 56!! Shampoo, conditioner, facial cleanser, body wash. Then dry off, brush teeth, face cream, mousse then blow dry hair. I used to have a free-flow process. I mean, really – who needs structure to shower, for heaven’s sake?! Well….me. Up until last year I’d just ‘wing it’ – randomly going through the list then ending up wondering if I had washed my hair yet, conditioned it twice by mistake, or whether I’d washed my face at all. If the ‘simple’ daily process of getting ready for the day had the potential for relatively minor chaos, you can perhaps imagine the challenge of productivity that the rest of the day brought. Every ‘next action’ was up for internal debate, opening the door to regular procrastination and/or redirection. In hindsight, it was probably no surprise that I married a man so structured that you could set your clock in the morning by what time he pushed the bread down in the toaster.

    I had actually thought myself unique in my world view until I did the Myers-Briggs Personality test and found out that I was an ENFP which, I’m guessing Penelope, you may be. http://www.personalitypage.com/ENFP.html. While most ENFPers probably do not have the ADD-like and executive functioning challenges that I do, this profile does embrace the unique tendencies of 2-8% of the population that sound just like me. (A free unofficial version can be done at http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp ) It was a real life-shifter to realize that 92-98% of the population do not see and function in the world the same way I do. (Really?!!) But we need ALL the ‘types’ – with all their strengths and unique features – to make the world go round. :-)

  37. zan
    zan says:

    one afternoon about 12 years ago, while writing development notes on a miniseries script at a television network, i realized i wasn’t breathing. that is, i was breathing, but i wasn’t conscious of it. so i wrote DON’T FORGET TO BREATHE on a 4×6 card and tacked it to my bulletin board. sure enough, every time i saw the card — which was quite often, since it hung over my very busy phone — i took a deep breath. simple and critical, it grounded and focused me in almost magical ways.

    i work in my home, now, and am scattered in a hundred different ways, all over the place with my time and my thoughts, and i tell myself it’s just my process when i’m writing or producing or whatever..but really, i’m driving myself a little crazy. this post of yours has reminded me i haven’t been breathing, and i need to make another sign.

  38. Matthew
    Matthew says:

    Would you post a picture of the pigs to your Facebook page so I can make comments such as “too cute,” “adorable,” and “precious.”

  39. Leonie
    Leonie says:


    I used to train on my own (I’m an amateur triathlete/competitive swimmer/runner). I found I had better results when I committed to training with a friend or when I started using a coach.

    As for nutrition, I knew I needed to improve my nutrition if I wanted to compete effectively. I hired a nutritionist, saw her three times and taught ok, I’m good. Well I wasn’t. Now I see her every 3 weeks and that helps. I also use a free program on the internet that tracks my weight loss/workouts/nutrition and it REALLY makes a difference.

    So people who know that I get up at 530am to run (because we’re going through a heat spell and it’s already close to 85 degrees at 6am…soon to be 101 degrees) think I’ve got amazing will power. Or when I swim 19,300 meters in five days.

    but really, it all comes down to the things you wrote about.
    I have a routine. I have If then rules. And I also have people I feel accountable to.

    I’m also somewhat competitive and thrive on beating myself ie slashing my time or making gains in my fitness level. But really, I’m not a huge fan of getting up early to run 10 miles, or 8, or 5 or 3….but I rather do that at 530am then at 830pm when it is still 90 degree. So, that’s my IF Then rule. If it’s summer, then run at 530am.

  40. Ralph
    Ralph says:

    Self disciple comes when you have goals, meaning in life and are working towards them. Self descipline also comes from a value system. I have seen considerable improvement in the content of this column since you have moved to the farm. It is a great environment to write about life and raise kids in a work ethic and morals based environment. Your growth experience is the best out there as you are very good at relating the emotions of personal experiences to the stories. Looking forward to more growth stories from the farm.

  41. Dina
    Dina says:

    Wow…first time to your blog and you had me at hello! Loved your three steps to willpower, now I’m convinced willpower and I will forever remain only acquaintances and never besties! Kudos too on a sponsored post that doesn’t sound like you’re pounding the product down your readers’ throats, a respite from other blogs that read like perpetual infomercials.

    Btw, I’ve been at my job as a mother for more than three years and still haven’t mastered it. It’d be nice if I could though…my expertise would be quite in demand if I could cut my children loose at the age of three as fully developed people! :)

  42. Heatther
    Heatther says:

    Post was great until the buy the mattress part. Really turned me off. Can’t they just sponsor a post if they want to get to your readers?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Guess what? They didn’t pay me to write about the mattress. They paid me to write about the Fitbit. I put the mattress thing in myself. Because it’s the best mattress I ever bought.


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