10 Lessons in Willpower From Publishing My First Book

I’ll never forget that moment.

I had been studying the biographies of successful people for years trying to find the key factors that led them to greatness. I found things that were pretty obvious indicators of success—dreaming big, setting goals, working hard, and so on...

But these alone could not be the answer I was looking for.

After all, there are millions of dreamers, goal-setters, and hard workers out there who don’t become a billionaire author like J.K. Rowling or a bodybuilding champion like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

So what was the difference? 

After pondering the answer to that question for a long time, I came across something called “the science of willpower” in a chapter of Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit. As I read through it, I began to feel a rush of excitement I couldn’t put into words.

I finally found the answer—and the topic of my first book.

However, the journey from that answer to The Will of Heroes being published was far from easy. I struggled creatively, financially, and to simply stick with the book until it was done.

Here are the 10 biggest willpower lessons I learned along the way:


When I set out to write The Will of Heroes, I had big dreams for the book.

I wanted it to be just as good as the books I’d read by my favorite authors like Robert Greene, Kelly McGonigal, or the Heath Brothers. But I had a long way to go to get to that level.

Besides the need to work on my writing skills (I had yet to even start a blog), I also needed to read dozens of biographies, articles, books, and scientific studies in order to even think about reaching their level of quality.

That list seemed daunting in itself—and it doesn’t even include actually writing the book!

So I didn’t let myself get overwhelmed. Once I knew the scope, I forgot about the huge task and focused simply on the next small step I needed to take. And that was learning how to write in the first place. [1]


For most of my life, I have been a terrible writer. In fact, I doubt any of my teachers growing up would believe me if I told them that I now write for a living.

But writing this book was my dream—so I needed to improve.

So I learned everything I could about the craft of writing (this book truly helped). Then I created a deliberate practice routine where I took the key ideas from a passage of an author I admired, tried to express those ideas by writing my own passage, then compared them.

This was a long, frustrating, and quite simply boring process. But it was incredibly effective (see an old post for proof) in helping me overcome my weakness as a writer and create the quality of book that I wanted. [2]


One of the biggest problems we face when trying to accomplish a huge goal or project is trying to achieve it through intensity.

We set a plan to exercise every day, cut out all carbs, or start waking up an hour earlier every morning. This intensity is then followed by an equal crash when our willpower muscle can't keep up anymore.

This is the big mistake I made while writing this book as well. At first, I would wait for the right “inspiration” to write, and write up to 3,000 words in one sitting. Then I’d follow that with days, weeks, even months without writing anything because it didn’t “feel right.”

Then I learned one of my most important rules to-date—real writers write everyday.  

So I did. I shifted my focus from intensity to consistency. And I found that, even on my least inspired days, as soon as I began writing I immersed myself in the task and finally made real progress.


No matter what your goal, there is someone out there who has achieved it. They may have even had similar circumstances to you. And learning their story is powerful.

They can be your inspiration when you’re going through hard times, because they are proof that achieving your goal is possible.

Personally, my inspiration was J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series.

It took Rowling 5 long years to write the first Harry Potter book. And during those years she was a single mother living on welfare. She battled doubt, fear, and even depression, but she still mustered the willpower to write Harry Potter—and write it with excellence.

Thinking about her story inspired me to keep pushing, to keep writing, and to never sacrifice quality. Because I knew if she could go through what she did, I could overcome any challenges that I was facing as well.  [3


Writing this book has been my most passionate project to date. I truly enjoyed learning about the heroes, connecting the science, and telling their stories in practical terms. 

But not all aspects of writing were glamorous. 

I spent countless boring hours practicing my writing, doing citations, and ensuring the manuscript adhered to proper formatting. These were extremely boring, but also extremely important. So I had to learn to embrace the boredom in order to create a quality book. 

Usually we don't give up on goals because they're hard—we give up on them because they're boring. It's boring eating vegetables, boring running on the treadmill, and boring studying textbook information. 

But these boring moments are incredibly important. And embracing them will make all of the difference in sticking with your goals to the finish.


No matter who you are, what you do with your time, or how much you “put yourself out there” you will face criticism.

One of the most important things I learned when I started putting my work into the public eye was how to use the proper perspective with all of the criticism I receive. In general, I have found three groups of people who will criticize you:

  1. People who are simply trolls and feel better about themselves by criticizing you. 
  2. People who have different values than you and will criticize you because they simply do not understand you.
  3. People who can help you improve your work—or at least offer a different perspective.

Criticism from the first two groups can be ignored, but the third group is vitally important.

Some of the biggest improvements that I have made to this site and to my writing came from criticism. And I’m grateful because the final product of my book is now higher quality because I received that criticism.

However, you must try to understand which group is criticizing you. Do not change your work because of a troll, and do not ignore the criticism of someone who is pointing out an area that you need to improve upon. 


When I first set out to write the book, I wanted to be published by a major publishing house. After all, the idea of becoming a “published author” is a huge accomplishment—especially these days.

But when I had a fully written manuscript, I decided to at least consider the self-publishing process. So did the research necessary to compare the two. 

As a first time author, with an already established brand, and well-established audience of 40,000 subscribers: self-publishing was the clear choice. 

But I didn’t want it to be.

I thought of self-publishing as “beneath me” even though it was the better choice for many reasons. So I began searching for confirming evidence that would justify my vanity. Luckily I snapped out of it at some point and realized I was adhering to the confirmation bias.

Pride can be a powerful ally in achieving a high standard, but it can also blind you from confronting the brutal facts and ultimately making the best decision.


As many of you know, the funding for this book came from a Kickstarter campaign I ran last fall.

With 10 days left in that campaign, it seemed like there was no chance I was going to raise enough money to publish the book. But then I decided to open up to others, share my story, and even start helping people like me who were also struggling with their Kickstarter campaigns. 

Once I stopped focusing on myself and started to focus on others, everything started to change. I helped others with their campaigns, got great advice from them in return, and developed a deeper connection with readers because I showed vulnerability.

My focus on willpower has mainly been on the individual. But that experience showed me that no matter what the goal, you aren't alone. Your social group can be a powerful ally. [4]


Throughout the project I faced plenty of temptations to give it up.

And these temptations weren't always to quit because it was too hard. Most of the time, I was tempted to simply "put the book off" because there were other, seemingly more exciting, opportunities to do something else. 

Unfortunately, I gave into these temptations a lot. I started researching irrelevant topics, focusing on marketing, and even starting a new book at one point! Then I remembered a lesson from Steve Jobs: win the battle you are already in

We all begin our goals excited, but then we hit the middle of the journey where it becomes hard, tedious, and boring. So we start a new exciting goal...and we never finish any of them.

The next time you become tempted by the lure of a new and exciting goal, pause. Think about your current goals and ambitions. Remember that what you’re working on right now once seemed just as exciting—and finish what you started. 


From the start of this project all the way until the finish, there was one thing that pushed me through all of the good times and bad: my purpose. 

Across the world, people have a daily struggle to do the hard work necessary to achieve what they really want in life. And simply understanding how willpower works, and how to master it, can make a big difference.

So when I felt like skipping a day of writing, taking shortcuts, or giving up entirely, I reminded myself of that purpose. And remembered that what I was working for was worth it. 

I have studied the paths of some of the greatest heroes, I have learned some of the most important principles of willpower, and I am confident in saying that there is no greater boost to your willpower than a truly great purpose for you to use it. [5]