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The Psychology of Willpower

What you need to know about willpower

The Science Of Willpower

The Science Of Willpower

  • To succeed at self-control you need to know how you fail.
  • The best way to improve your self-control is to see how and why you lose control.
  • Self-knowledge is the foundation of self-control.
  • Theories are nice; data is better.

The Three Power Challenges To Test Willpower

  • An “I will” power challenge: What is something you would like to do more of or stop putting off because you know doing it will improve the quality of your life?
  • An “I won’t” power challenge: What is the stickiest habit in your life? What would you like to give up or do less of because it is undermining your health, happiness or success?
  • An “I want” power challenge: What is the most important long-term goal you’d like to focus your energy on? What immediate want is most likely to distract you or tempt you away from this goal?

Motivation And Self-Control

  • I will and I won’t power alone do not constitute willpower. To say no when you need to say no, and yes when you need to say yes, you need a third power. The ability to remember what you really want.
  • To exert self-control you need to find your motivation when it matters.
  • People who have better control of their attention, emotions, and actions are better off almost any way you look at it.
  • Self-control is a better predictor of academic success than intelligence.

BENJAMIN HARDY

Success isn’t that difficult; it merely involves taking twenty steps in a singular direction. Most people take one step in twenty directions.

BENJAMIN HARDY

BENJAMIN HARDY

If you want a different life, you must be a different person.

BENJAMIN HARDY

The Premise

The Premise

Getting enough self-discipline to get stuff done is tough. What if there was a way you could become ultra-productive and reach your dreams without having to just push through in misery?

Here is how:

  • Intentionally design your environment for success instead of worrying about willpower.
  • Optimize separate spaces for work and play for maximum productivity and fulfilment.
  • Quickly and firmly get rid of anything and everything that makes reaching your goals harder and requires willpower to resist. 

What willpower is

What willpower is

Willpower is the ability to resist or delay short-term desires to achieve long-term goals. Other names for willpower are self-discipline, self-control, self-regulation, determination, drive. Willpower consists of three things:

  • "I won't" power - Saying "no" to temptation.
  • "I will" power - Saying "yes" to the things you know will lead to long-term satisfaction.
  • "I want" power - Remembering your goal.

Benefits of willpower

  • Self-control appears to be a better predictor of academic achievement, a determining factor of effective leadership, and essential for marital satisfaction.
  • People who harness their willpower more effectively are happier, healthier, have better relationships, are further ahead in their careers, are more able to manage stress and deal with conflict.

The neuroanatomy of willpower

The neuroanatomy of willpower

  • The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the part of our brains situated right behind our forehead. It is responsible for abstract thinking, analyzing thoughts, and regulating behavior.
  • The PFC controls what we think about, what we pay attention to, how we feel. Studies point out that this part of the brain is only fully developed around age 25.
  • The "I will power" is controlled by the region near the upper left side of the brain and helps you start and continue with not so fun tasks.
  • The right side handles the "I won't power," preventing you from acting out on every impulse.
  • The "I want power" sits in the middle of the PFC and keeps track of your goals and desires.

Willpower Depletion

Willpower Depletion

It is the idea that we place our willpower under much strain and as we put in much more effort into anything, the more it gets drained.

The consequence of this is that the more it gets drained, the less self-control we have in order to resist temptations. However, many studies are contending this idea and supports the concept that willpower is not a finite commodity that depletes over time, it is something we can control.

Roy Baumeister

Self-control is a huge predictor of success or failure in life.

ROY BAUMEISTER

The Lab vs The Real World

  • Numerous studies have been performed by various researchers to indicate how real willpower depletion is and if it is even real at all.
  • Even with the contention of its existence, some areas of research are showing promising studies that we can exert control over our willpower through workouts or rituals.
  • It showed that even small, regular tests of willpower can give your self-control a lift. Willpower workouts don’t have to be especially taxing to have an effect.

The ego-depletion myth

The ego-depletion myth

One of the most popular folk psychology may be the belief that self-control is somehow "spent."

The idea received support in the late 1990s and has been cited over three thousand times by academic peers.

The ego-depletion study error

A recent study that involved over 2,000 participants attempted to reproduce the experiment that led to the ego-depletion theory but found no evidence of ego depletion.

Scholars looked into a 2010 meta-analysis of nearly 200 experiments and discovered that the meta-analysis showed a "publication bias" in which studies that produced contradictory evidence were not included.

Looking at willpower differently

The idea of ego depletion may have caught on because it satisfies a need to justify why we sometimes do things we know we shouldn't.

Instead of looking for an excuse, we should perhaps accept that we are fragile, distractible beings and cut ourselves some slack. Maybe our waning energy and wandering minds are trying to tell us something.

To break unhealthy habits, stop obsessing over willpower

To break unhealthy habits, stop obsessing over willpower

People often repeat everyday behaviors out of habit. If you regularly drink coffee, you likely do so automatically as part of your habitual routine – not just out of tiredness.

It’s unsatisfying to say that we do something out of habit just because it’s what we’re used to doing. Instead, we concoct more compelling explanations, like saying we drink coffee to ease our morning fog.

This reluctance means that we fail to recognize many habits, even as they permeate our daily lives.

Habits are formed in specific environments that provide a cue, or trigger, for the behavior.

Unpacking what lies behind habits

Unpacking what lies behind habits

A survey was conducted: coffee drinkers were asked what they think drives their coffee consumption. They estimated that tiredness was about twice as important as habit in driving them to drink coffee. Their coffee drinking and fatigue were tracked over the course of one week.

Survey Results

Survey Results

The actual results starkly diverged from participants’ explanations. Yes, they were somewhat more likely to drink coffee when tired – as would be expected – but it was found that habit was an equally strong influence. People overestimated the role of tiredness and underestimated the role of habit. Habits, it seems, aren’t considered much of an explanation.

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