Tracking Willpower and Self-Restraint

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how to measure and track willpower self-restraint and self-controlWinslow Strong of Biohack Yourself (check out his awesome blog, by the way!) recently posted a great question on Quantified Self Facebook page, asking about ways to quantify restraint. This is when I remembered about my attempt to track willpower in March that was partially inspired by our conversation with Hiren Patel of Becoming the Best (another awesome blog!).  My method for tracking willpower (self-restraint/self-control) was rather simple and straightforward.

Instead of measuring some subjective “willpower” construct, I decided to operationalize it by tracking how often I was “tempted” to break certain routines, and how many time I would succumb to those temptations. I decided to focus on the following routines:

  • Diet: eating healthy
  • Fitness: going to the gym, biking, or walking during lunch (whichever was scheduled for that day)
  • Finance: restraining from unnecessary expenses
  • Learning: sticking to my evening Rosetta Spanish and programming lessons

To track temptations and failures, I set up the following trackers in my rTracker log (you can also use Track-and-Share app) for all three dayparts. The rest was easy: at the end of every morning, afternoon, and evening, I would check off the appropriate boxes if I was tempted with breaking the routine and if I broke it:

how to quantify willpower

If I sum up all the temptations and failures for every day, this is how my internal struggles in March would look like (blue bars represent number of temptations on that day, red bars – number of failures):

tracking temptations diet and fitness

tracking temptations spending and learning

One way to quantify the “restraint” or “willpower” is to compute ratio of total number of failures to total number of temptations, subtract it from 1 and convert to percentage. For example, 0 failures would translate to 100% willpower. The 2 failures out of 4 temptations would translate to 50% of willpower; and total succumbence to temptations would result in willpower of 0%:

Quantifying Willpower

Armed with this metrics, you can delve into deeper analytics, like correlations with stress, mood and sleep. Perhaps, including more routines (going to bed on time, brushing teeth, etc.) could further improve measurement. Overall, I believe this approach has a good potential. What do you think?

PS I am still trying to figure out how to incorporate Javascript into WordPress posts. In the meantime, you can check out the interactive version of the willpower charts here.

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3 Responses to Tracking Willpower and Self-Restraint

  1. Hiren Patel says:

    I would be interested in what techniques you might use in the moments of temptation to not give in to it? Distraction, breathing, mindfulness, re-interruption of emotion links to temptations, etc. You can either reduce the # of times you might get tempted by lifestyle design, or learn to take on the temptations without it impacting your body/mind. Let’s keep experimenting on this. I think I’ll do another Willpower experiment next month!

  2. Kostas, you are a dedicated tracker. Your system makes a lot of sense, but seems attention-intensive to carry out. How did you find it?

    I find it a mental burden to know I should keep track of subjective feelings like whether I was tempted (either keep track or log it immediatly). I did this for a few months with a lot of things, but got tired of it, and didn’t find it worth the reward.

    But I do really want to track willpower/restraint somehow. Lumoback as a metric?

  3. Measured Me says:

    Hello Winslow,

    At this point my system is to track a certain construct of interest for a month, then take a break from tracking, analyzing data and reporting insights, while doing research on what to track next, etc. If I really like the construct, e.g., happiness, I continue tracking it, if I find it useless, I drop it :)

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