Automate to Keep Your Willpower Bucket Full

by | Health, Productivity

You enter your kitchen after a long day and go straight to the refrigerator for the most convenient, fastest, processed thing you can get to put in your piehole. There is no way you have the energy to even THINK about what to eat.

You stand at the ice cream/cupcake/bakery for several minutes before deciding on the flavor because the choice overload is too much. Then you get the same kind you always do in defeat.

You're asked to sign a contract that you are a little nervous about at 4:30pm on a Friday. You default to the status quo and just decide to decline the contract.

Every day we make thousands of decisions. Researchers at Cornell found that we make an average of 227 decisions about food alone.

As covered in my video on your Willpower Bucket, willpower and discipline are not finite. Think about it like this…you start the morning with a full bucket of Willpower Monkeys. Every decision you make causes a monkey to jump out of the bucket. At the end of the day, you have a lot less monkeys. These are not the smartest monkeys in the bunch either. These are the tired or lazy monkeys who didn't want to expend energy earlier. These are not the monkeys you want making decisions for you.


Some of the questions I have to decide on every day, sometimes within an hour of getting up:

What do I wear to exercise?

Do I start with strength training or cardio?

Do I eat breakfast now or wait until Kevin gets up?

Do I add vegetables to my grits or eat them like Kevin makes them?

Do I shower before or after breakfast?

What color of lipstick do I put on?


When we are tired, low on energy or have had most of our monkeys jump out of our bucket, we tend to

  • procrastinate

  • defer to the status quo

  • make a fear-based decision

  • take less risks


How do you get around this?  Keep as many monkeys in your bucket by planning as much as you can in advance and reducing your choices. In other words, automate your decisions.

My husband has the same breakfast every single morning. Sometimes I'll have it with him + add veggies. He has a few monkeys still left in his bucket for later. Maybe they'll choose a healthier lunch and dinner because there are more of them to say ‘Hey, let's eat the better choice!'


Some ways I automate my decisions:

  • On Sundays I plan my workouts for the week and have a general idea if I am doing them in the morning or later (usually only if I am training with someone). The only thing that changes this is if my heart rate variability score is low on my Sweetbeat App or if the weather makes me have to flip around days.

  • On Sundays and Wednesdays I spend one hour washing, chopping, prepping and cooking for the week. This way I don't have to make too many dinner decisions. I just throw together what's already cooked or ready.

  • Like a child, I sometimes pick out all my outfits for the week on days I am leaving my house. It all gets put on one hanger and includes my jewelry. Weather or mood may change my mind on a specific outfit, but it's never a waste of time because that entire outfit is ready to go when I want to wear it. This is HUGE for me because I will stand in front of my closet for several minutes deciding what to wear if I don't do this. I don't even have a lot of clothes and it is still a time waster.

  • I'm not a condiment whore and have an entire fridge door filled with different sauces. I have a few and tend to eat pretty simply.

  • I clean different parts of my house on set days of the week.

This may not seem like a big deal, but science tells us that it can help. Simplify what you can and make decisions in advance if possible. Make your important decisions earlier in the day or after you've done something that renews your energy, like exercising or eating a healthy meal.

What is one simple thing that you aren't automating in your life that you can start doing today?

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“Your Weekender Snapshot and Tim Ferriss’s Five Bullet Friday are my favorite emails I receive.”

jim west

Principal and Managing Director, GFF Architects


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