I have developed an unhelpful habit of eating before bed. At the end of a long day, often a stressful one, with two babies and already at a sleep deficit, that moment after the kids have gone to bed and I won’t be working anymore feels like it calls for something.

Using longterm incentives to correct this: “I need to lose weight,” “I need to worry about my heart,” “I want to be quicker on the basketball court,” just leads me down a path of leaning on willpower, battling myself, and 68% of the time, giving in.

At day’s end, I’m fresh out of willpower, and it would be fun to eat for a minute.

Willpower is bunk. Every single piece of advice to use willpower for anything real or important is thoughtless garbagespeak.

Here’s a sophisticated decoder I’ve developed that you are free to use: Code: (any words/advice that boil down to using willpower)

Translation: “So, errrrrm, have you tried just NOT doing that?”

So long-term incentives don’t work because willpower is still involved, willpower is a limited resource, no one really has any more of it than anyone else, and a person’s capacity for willpower cannot be appreciably cultivated or increased.

The good news is that the short-term incentive to avoid eating before bed is superior to anything long-term: My sleep, tonight, will be improved if I have tea instead of, say, finishing all the kids’ chicken fingers and tater tots.

Not a little improved. Radically transformed.

If I skip this nighttime snack, I will get to bed earlier, my body won’t radiate heat overnight, and I’ll wake up rested and happy (and with comfortable digestion).

For a little more evidence, I have metrics from my Oura ring that let me know just how much better my sleep was.

Sleep improves everything in my life, starting with my perception of life’s difficulties. Without enough sleep, life feels IMPOSSIBLE, like maybe we should give up on the human experiment. When I do have enough sleep, life feels possible, and sometimes even fun and exciting.

My short-term incentive for better sleep is perfectly synced with my long-term incentive for a healthier body and mind, but the short-term is the only one that really matters. The long-term incentives have never helped me over any significant period. Not once, not ever.

This is why any and all advice to “try harder” should be thrown in the trash forever. I have tried to my fullest capacity of trying. I promise: It doesn’t mean shit, it doesn’t do shit, it isn’t worth shit. It’s a burnout, whack-a-mole, failed design for living.

The shorter-term the incentive, the better, all the way down to “This is exactly what I want to be doing in this moment.” This approach produces happier, healthier people, a better world, and much more valuable (and prolific) results that any “hard work” ever could.