Willpower Workout 1: Overcoming Boredom

Willpower Workout #1: Overcoming Boredom

August 24, 2020

When we think about designing willpower workouts, we need to think about three dimensions of the workout:

  1. Task characteristics: What is it about the tasks in the workout that require willpower? Why don’t you want to do them?
  2. Personal pre-conditions: How are you feeling when you begin the workout and during the workout? Are you already exhausted or upset?
  3. Intensity vs. duration: Does this workout require that you keep going and don’t give up for an extended period of time? Or does it only require willpower for a brief period, but the task is so difficult or unpleasant that the willpower required to do it is still significant?

We’ll talk more about these over the next few days. We explain them here because the Day 1 Workout contains a specific task characteristic that is common in the workplace and one we need to be able to overcome. Workout 1 contains a boring task. Boring tasks, by definition, require willpower because we are not motivated to do them. We need to be able to maintain the quality and efficiency of our work when doing boring tasks. Here’s the workout:

Day 1 Willpower Workout:

Retype pages 3-6 of this treadmill user manual. When ready to start, follow these steps (or just go for it):

  1. Open a blank document.
  2. Type the current time.
  3. Begin retyping the manual (also linked above) starting on page 3. Skip the images and image captions. Follow line breaks and bullets/numbering, but you don’t have to match exact font sizes and types. Remember that you’re going for quality and speed.
  4. After completing each page, type the time.
  5. Keep going until you finish re-typing page 6.

Evaluating Your Workout

To understand what just happened, do some analytics:

  • How long did it take you? How many spelling errors did you make? Share your stats with us on social media.
  • Now take a deeper dive: Calculate your words per minute typed for each page. Microsoft Word will give you a word count in the Review tab.
  • Also, add up how many spelling errors you made per page so you can calculate your errors per word for each page.

Did your pace slow from the first page to the last?

If so, the level of willpower you allocated to the task probably declined over the course of the workout. Work on extending your willpower stamina!

Did you experience a lull in the middle (pages 4-5) and score faster in the beginning and end?

If so, you probably felt a burst of motivation in the beginning and another burst on page 6 when you felt you were getting toward the end, but lost your motivation in the middle. That is where you need to up your willpower to maintain consistent output and quality.

Did your speed remain pretty constant but your quality go down?

This probably means that your concentration declined over the course of the workout. You may have been thinking, “Ah, just let me get through this.” That is the mindset of survival, not thriving. Go beyond the survivor mindset in order to perform at your best when you don’t want to.

Willpower Workout in Action:

This was a good workout for my will. There were a few times when I wanted to stop. By tracking my times, I was also able to pull some interesting insights that will be helpful to me for future workouts (you can check out my analysis of my workout at 16:05 below).

Two lessons I learned while doing it:

  1. If you can, disable auto-correct in your word processor so that you can get an accurate count of typing errors.
  2. Use a stopwatch or time tracking app like Toggl to get a precise read on how long it takes you to do each page and you’ll get better analytics.

Nice work today! You’re building a very important muscle.

This is day 1 of a 40-day journey to explore your limits. If you’d like to receive a daily email with the willpower workout of the day, you can sign up here to start at Day 1 with the first workout:

If you’d prefer to jump in where Matt is right now and then make up the other workouts on your own schedule, sign up here: