As the readers of my blog, you know that I have been studying willpower and discipline like a maniac for the past 5 years. Meanwhile, I have been experimenting with every possible scenario and technique.

Among all these techniques, there’s this particular one that never ceases to fascinate me by its bulletproof effectiveness.

The technique is so potent that history and fiction are filled with tales of chivalrous figures — from Henry Stanely to Odysseus — using it as their main weapon of mass accomplishment.

Henry Morton Stanley — Breaker of Rocks

Self-control is more indispensable than gunpowder. — Henry Morton Stanley

While on a mission in Ituri rain forest, Stanly and his men suffered through torrential rains and waist-deep mud, trying at the same time to thwart the never-ending swarms of stinging flies and biting ants.

They were weakened by a prolonged hunger, crippled by infected sores, and incapacitated by malaria and dysentery. They were hunted, killed, and sometimes eaten, by natives who attacked them.

6 month into his mission, struggling with malaria and dire sickness, while he was constantly being warned by natives that he will die if continues, in one evening he writes:

I have taken a solemn, enduring oath, an oath to be kept while the least hope of life remains in me, not to be tempted to break the resolution I have formed, no living man, or men, shall stop me, only death can prevent me, But death — not even this; I shall not die, I will not die, I cannot die! — Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer

The act of writing his resolutions was the major strategy to preserve his willpower that Stanley used over and over with success.

This is called pre-commitment, an insanely effective strategy that has never failed me.

The Essence of the strategy is to lock yourself into a virtuous path.

You anticipate that you will face lucrative temptations to stray you from your path. Thus, you make it impossible — or somehow make it disgraceful, sinful, or unthinkable — to leave the path.

Fig 1. Odysseus VS the Sirens

Pre-commitment is what Odysseus did to get passed the luring and deadly songs of the Sirens. He had himself lashed to the mast with orders not to untie him regardless of how hard he pleaded to go to the sirens. His men pre-committed differently, by plugging their ears that would make them oblivious to the enchanting songs of the Sirens.

Bulletproot Willpower Technique:The Truth About Pre-Commitment

Willpower is not about resisting, forcing, or controlling — it’s about choosing. — Penney Peirce

The enormous efficacy of pre-commitment stems from the fact that it relieves you from having to rely on willpower.

Every act of yours in the realm of willpower — whether you want to stick to your resolution, or rejecting a temptation — involves decision making.

What causes the problem is that making decisions is metabolically very expensive. Namely, it consumes lots of energy from your brain. Hence, your brain naturally tries to dissuade you from having to make such decisions.

That is why we find it to be very uncomfortable when were’ in a tug-of-war with temptations and we want to say no. Making the decision to say no is painful.

But when you pre-commit, you make the decisions in advance, and when the occasion calls, you no longer have to rely on your willpower to make the decision. 

That is the power of pre-commitment, it frees you from the bounds of willpower.

3 Ways to Employ Pre-commitment

1. Write down your resolution with a specific date and time. 

This simple technique almost never fails me. 

If it is something that I keep procrastinating on such as the desire to start a new online course, going to the gym etc, guaranteeing the execution is as simple as writing my decision down and specifying an exact date and time. 

So, if the task is a chronic victim of procrastination, you can ensure its execution by simply writing your task down and designating it a specific date and time. 

The effectiveness of writing my plans down is so amazing that I went a step further and adopted the bullet journal system which is now an extension of my brain.

bullet journal
Fig 2. My Bullet Journal - Blurred Due to Privacy

If what you are striving to start or accomplish needs to be done on a regular basis and for a long stretch of time, you can use another variation of this technique.

Write down your decision in form of creed and sanctify it. 

For instance, since I was ashamed of hitting the snooze button, I eliminated it from my life by this simple line:

I, Amir, hereby make a solemn oath not to use the snooze button ever again!

There’s a subtle catch to this sanctification process. 

Don’t go for some form of bland writing like: I promise to go to the gym every day.

You must sanctify it with an attribute or quality that does matter to you a lot. It has to trigger you in some way. Whether it is your pride, your sense of morality etc.

For me, when I write that I make a solemn oath to … it both engages my sense of pride and morality which guarantees its effectiveness.

It is now my conviction that:

 writing down elicits commitment and commitment crystalizes into action.

2. Pre-commit the Odysseus way

What Odysseus did was to eliminate the possibility of indulgement in the first place. Even if he wanted, he wouldn’t be able to give in to temptations!

Do you want to prevent yourself from compulsively using social networks and instead focus on your projects ? Pre-commit by blocking your access to them. Or if you want to be a bit more extreme, abandon them altogether. 

I have removed all the social media apps from my mobile and when using my computer, I use the StayFocusd extension which blocks the access to the irrelevant websites.

This technique, too, has the added value of preserving your precious willpower and psychic energy since it relieves you from having to rely on it.

In fact, studies show that people with the most self-control spend less time resisting temptations than others. This was puzzling to the researchers until the explanation emerged:

People with the most self-control have less need to use willpower because they’re beset by fewer temptations and inner conflicts. They’re better at arranging their lives so that they avoid problematic situations.

3. Pre-commit publicly or pre-commit to an accountability partner

I am so tempted to say that the technique works 100% of the times. Let me suffice to say it is perhaps the most bulletproof of all. 

This technique actually saved me from my a severe depression.

I know that exercise would dramatically help me with my situation. But I didn’t have the will and the courage to do it. 

My father goes running every morning. So I forced myself out of comfort zone by simply promising my father to join him. 

You must have realized the tremendous power of this technique here. When you are experiencing depression, sometimes you don’t have the will and the mood to eat food let alone going for a run. But this technique helped me bypass my dead willpower.

In another occasion, I once decided to go on three-day fasting (water only) and I made it easy to stick to it by simply letting EVERYONE around me to know that I’m gonna do this.

Stanly — the breaker of rocks — used this variation of pre-commiting as well. In every private letter, in every newspaper dispatches, and in every public declaration, he promised to triumph out of his missions.

He knew that his failure would make headlines. 

By manifesting that public persona of himself as Bula Matari, the adamant breaker of rocks, he forced himself to live up to it. Through his pre-commitment — both personally and publicly — he removed the fickle willpower out of the equation. And in the end, he triumphed.

In Summary

  •  Pre-commitment is the most powerful technique that help you with your willpower and discipline.
  • Willpower is a limited resource and unless you have strengthened it through rigorous practice you cannot rely on it.
  • The hard thing about willpower is that it requires decision making which is metabolically a very expensive act.
  • Pre-commitment relieves you from having to rely on willpower by making decisions in advance.
  • There are three ways you can use pre-commitment:
    1.  Write down the things you want to start doing by designating a precise date and time. If it is something you want to continually doing, write it down in form of a creed or oath.
    2. You can pre-commit by eliminating the sources of temptations e.g. blocking your access to social media.
    3. You can pre-commit publicly or to an accountability partner. 

Now it is your turn. What is it you are struggling to achieve in your personal life? What techniques do you use to make sure you get the job done. Or when faced with temptations, how do you make sure you win it over? Let me know in the comments.

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