Today’s New York Times included an article on willpower, written by two psychologists. You can read it here http://tinyurl.com/3pbwwp
The article, written by 2 reputable researchers, seems to suggest that willpower is like a muscle. As you get used to setting limits for yourself, self-discipline gets easier.
Researchers like to experiment with food. For example, the authors cited a study where some subjects ate radishes and others ate chocolate. The chocolate-eaters did better on simple cognitive tasks afterward, presumably because they still had cognitive reserves left over. The radish-eaters had used up a big chunk of willpower (not to mention chewing energy).
I’m not so sure. For example, we also know that mood influences problem solving. That’s why (I suspect) belief in the Law of Attraction can be so powerful. It doesn’t matter if the universe really sends you good things when you expect them. If you’re feeling strong and positive, you’ll automatically take wiser steps to each your goals as compared to times when you’re feeling weak and negative.
Eating chocolate puts many people in a good mood (including me!). In fact, noted researcher Alice Isen used miniature chocolates to create “good mood” states in her experiments. And let’s not forget the simple sugar rush from eating chocolate.
The authors also noted that military recruits get better at applying willpower as they progress through basic training. They learn discipline, which, they claim gets easier through repetition.
Once again, there’s another explanation. As recruits learn certain skills, subsequent tasks might be easier to achieve. They also get confident and have greater incentive to keep going. In an 11-week Marine Corps boot camp, you’ll feel closer to graduation by the 8th week. You’ll also start getting more respect from the drill instructors (if we can believe those movies on Discovery Channel).
Or take an example closer to home: working out at the gym. I work out 3 to 5 times a week. But it’s not about willpower.
First, I actually enjoy going to the gym. I like chatting with my fellow members and being recognized by the class instructors. Some of the activities — like working the machines — are actually fun. Let’s not talk about push-ups.
Second, even more important, working out becomes self-reinforcing. If you just go to the gym and go through the motions, you’ll get stronger. You’ll look better. You’ll start getting compliments from friends and even total strangers. When you go to a new gym, or a new instructor takes over a class, you’ll be identified as “in shape.”
So after awhile, you’re working out to get rewards…not from willpower.
Hmm…there’s a bag of dark chocolate miniatures in my kitchen cupboard, high on a shelf where I won’t have to see them every day. I’d be tempted to take one but I’m going to the gym in about one hour.