Willpower is required for creativity.

There’s a new book out right now called Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, by Dr. Roy Baumeister and John Tierney. The book talks about how our willpower is affected by two things: the number of decisions we make and the amount of glucose in our blood at the time. Normally, I wouldn’t care about such things. I tend to think too much willpower can get in the way of a happy life! But then I thought about it a little more and uncovered what might be a critical link to creativity. So now I do care.

Here’s what I mean. When I interviewed David Baldwin and Seth Schulman, among others, on the Ideasicle Podcast, they both talked eloquently about fear being the enemy of creativity. David said, “I try to be unafraid of my ideas…and be open to whatever’s in my head.” Seth had a slightly different take, “It’s all about giving yourself permission to screw up.” I can personally relate to both points. When creating something new, there is an inherent risk. Risk that it’s a bad idea, risk that you’ll be ridiculed, or worse.

Now, one could argue (and I am) that it takes willpower to overcome those fears and, as David put it, be open to whatever’s in your head at the time, on a personal level, but also fearless in the idea’s presentation to others, to Seth’s point.

Making decisions depletes your willpower. 

According to the Willpower book there are specific things we can do to increase our willpower, which, if you buy my logic above, will help you overcome “idea fear.” One is that making too many decisions creates what he calls “decision fatigue.” The more “fatigued” you are from all those decisions, the less strong your willpower becomes overall.

It’s no wonder, then, that all the impulse purchases are at the checkout counter, after the poor sap of a shopper has made countless purchase decisions and fatigued their willpower! But it makes sense in the marketing world, too. In fact, I wonder if modern ad agencies have intuitively known this all along because they’ve got the “account people” to make all the business decisions, which protects the “creative people” from decision fatigue as they ideate.

Sugar amplifies your willpower. 

There’s another less complex, and much more enjoyable, influence to our collective will, according to Dr. Baumeister’s research. And that is glucose. Sugar. The white stuff (not that white stuff). Apparently, your willpower is at least partially restored if you eat something sugary. Explains the M&Ms in the back room of focus group facilities – keeps you from succumbing to your burning desire to get the eff out of there, I guess. But apparently, a couple bites of sugar has been shown to increase willpower in Baumeister’s studies.

So here’s a fear-slaying, idea-enhancing formula.

Ideasicle Experts take notice here. To increase your willpower, and thereby slay the dragon of idea-fear, do the following:

  1. Less decisions. Don’t make too many decisions before you sit down to work. Maybe you do your heaviest idea-lifting in the morning?
  2. More sugar. Eat a Snickers bar just prior to your creative session for an added boost of fear-slaying willpower.

And then? Fear, be damned. We’ve got you licked.


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