Willpower: The Fuel Behind Your Career And Your Brand

Book ReviewsCareer DevelopmentPersonal Branding

If you are a regular reader of this blog and other personal branding quality materials, you are probably convinced by now out that your brand is one of your greatest (if not ‘the’ greatest) intangible assets at your disposal. It is also absolutely key to the build-up and development of your career in these most uncertain times, where permanent positions and career safety seem like a fairytale of old. The benefits of a strong personal brand stay with you no matter what, and give you the chance to adapt yourself better and faster to rapidly-changing circumstances, alter course, seek that coveted promotion or even reinvent yourself, Arnold Schwarzenegger-style, as your life progresses and moves on. Investing in your personal brand is by far one of the single smartest career strategies, as myself and thousand of others have discovered worldwide.

There are of course many factors contributing to developing a successful personal brand. We could cite amongst the most salient the right blend of personal branding tactics and techniques, an unflinching commitment to values, a fair share of talent, a given level of proficiency and skill in your chosen field or your all-important ‘likeability’ factor (the more likeable you are, the more chances you’ve got of being promoted or hired in the first place).

And yet behind them all lies the fuel that constitutes in Professor Roy Baumeister and John Tierney’s felicitous phrase ‘the greatest human strength’: willpower, together with its twin sister virtue of self-controlShunned until recently as a relic of the Victorian era and its excesses of asceticism and discipline, willpower has recently re-emerged beyond the domains of self-help or psychology-lite and put back into its rightful center stage by the towering figure of social psychology from Florida State University and the renowned journalist from the New York Times in a book that should make compulsory reading for all personal branders. Ignore it and the importance of willpower at your peril.

The importance of willpower

While willpower has been mainly dealt with more or less fortune by well-meaning self-help authors, the beauty of Baumeister and Tierney’s volume is that it draws on a wealth of research carried out by Baumeister himself and other reputed social psychologists that at times confirm the commonsensical views on willpower we hold and at others flatly deny it. For instance, consider the following:

There seems to be a definite reservoir of willpower and self-control in all of us that will get depleted with use, even in the course of a single day. Baumeister and Tierney speak of ‘decision fatigue’ to account for the reasons behind the apparently incomprehensible lack of self-control displayed by the likes of Eliot Spitzer or Bill Clinton or the fact that judges are statistically more likely to grant parole early rather than late in the day.

Willpower is like a muscle that can not only be fatigued by overuse but also strengthened by exercise. Small step-by-step everyday actions like exercising or committing to writing a number of pages no matter what (as the examples of Victor Hugo or Anthony Trollope prove) can go a long way towards improving our overall levels of willpower endurance and self-control.

While most ‘New Year resolutions’ and goal lists are largely a waste of time, committing to a single objective – particularly if it is made public, shared with our intimate circle, and reviewed at regular intervals (attention personal branders!) – is the most effective tactic all-round. This agrees with insights from the best self-help gurus like Brian Tracy and his famous exercise of writing a list of ‘top ten’ objectives on a sheet of paper to immediately cross out nine, turn the page over and write in giant letters the single objective that will marshal all our strengths, and with which we have a more or less total emotional identification.

There seems to be a universal storehouse of willpower at our disposal and its psychological location seems to be trans-egoic and in the realms of our ‘higher selves’. When our objectives are animated by transcendent beliefs, they stand a much better chance of pulling through seemingly insurmountable odds, as AA and other self-help groups have discovered with their emphasis on submitting to a Higher Power (which can or cannot be religious in nature, as I dealt with in ‘The Spirituality of Personal Branding‘).

Willpower is behind every single worthy human achievement, and the construction and development of our personal brands is most certainly no exception. Harnessing our self-control and a skillful blend of practical wisdom and the latest research and new technologies like the social media (did you know that social media monitoring can be just as effective as other peer-group pressure?) is one of the safest bets to reach our personal and career goals and enjoy the quality of life we deserve.

In the meantime, I can only recommend the perusal and careful study of Baumeister and Tierney’s conclusions and other notable authors’ (Kelly McGonigal being another praiseworthy example) who are truly making useful contributions in an area that can have such a make-or-break impact in our careers and our lives. So the lesson for the day is: exercise your willpower to learn more about willpower for lasting benefits!