Willpower

- POSTED ON: Nov 11, 2011

                           

                                

When talking about Willpower, we are referring to

Self-discipline,
which is training and control of oneself
and one’s conduct…usually for personal improvement

and/or

Self-control,
which is the ability of a person
to exert his/her will over their body or self.

There are many areas in my life that I am very strong,
and where I regularly do exercise a great deal of self-discipline and self-control.
However, there are other areas....especially when dealing with food...
where I have extreme difficulty exercising any self-control at all. 

Today I bought the book, "Willpower", by Roy Baumeister, psychologist, 
and John Tierney, science writer, which is about the science of self-control. 
I’ll be reading it on my Kindle as I find the time to do so,
and hope to gain insight and techniques that will help me with this issue.

The following is a 9/11/11 review of that book by NPR books.


Look at that cupcake. Doesn't it look delicious?
Don't you want to eat it? Well, don't.

The power to resist temptation — to pass up dessert,
to endure an unpleasant experience, to defer satisfaction —
is our "greatest human strength," argue psychologist Roy F. Baumeister
and science writer John Tierney in their new book, Willpower.
The book delves into the science of our age-old struggle with self-control.

"The Victorians talked about this vague idea of it being some form of mental energy,"
Tierney tells NPR's Audie Cornish. "In the last 15 years we've discovered that
it really is a form of energy in the brain. It's like a muscle that can be strengthened
with use, but it also gets fatigued with use."

Whether you're resisting a favorite food or completing a dreaded task,
exercising self-control in different areas of your life saps the same
mental energy source. Many dieters employ the out-of-sight-out-of-mind
technique of hiding desirable food — and studies show there's something to it.

"Just putting food where you can see it next to you depletes your willpower," Tierney says.
"Whereas putting it away in a drawer or putting it across the room makes it easier
for you because you're not actively resisting the temptation."

One of the most well-known studies found that hungry students who were forced
to resist the temptation of eating chocolate chip cookies did not perform as well
on subsequent tests of focus and self-control as students who had not been asked
to previously exercise restraint

"You only have a finite amount [of willpower] as you go through the day," Tierney says,
"so you should be careful to conserve it and try to save it for the emergencies."

Exhausting your mental energy is a process that researchers call "ego depletion."
Decision-making taps into the same energy reserves as self-control.

"You don't think of decision-making as necessarily being like resisting temptation,
but it is," Tierney says. "It involves the same kind of mental energy, the same source
of mental energy."

If you want to know when you're experiencing ego depletion, you're pretty much out of luck.
Tierney says scientists searched the data for symptoms of self-control fatigue and came up empty.

"Basically, it's that everything feels more intensely to you," Tierney says.
"Good things and bad things. You suddenly feel everything a little bit more intensely
because your brain has lost some ability to regulate emotions, and so you therefore
respond more strongly to everything."

Cravings, frustrations, desires — all feel overwhelming.

In the short term, self-control is a limited resource.
But over the long term, it can act more like a muscle.
Tierney cites one study in which students were asked to watch their posture for a week.
At the end of the week, those students performed better on self-control tasks
— tasks that had nothing to do with sitting up straight —
than students who had not been exercising control all week.

So when it comes to willpower, if practice doesn't make perfect,
then at least it makes progress. Tierney says people
who exercise their willpower frequently often have better self-control
— observant religious people, are a good example, he says.
"Most religions have prayers you say, exercises, meditations you do,
all those things build up that self-control."

There are plenty of secular ways to build up your willpower, too.
"Not using contractions when you speak, only speaking in complete sentences,
saying no instead of nah, don't use profanities ... all these things require mental effort,"
Tierney says. "And the more you do that, the more it builds up that muscle."


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