Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Hodgepodge 186/365 - Willpower

I am interested in willpower, as a means to getting more done and leading a healthier life. The American Psychological Association has a good website on it, called "What You Need to Know about Willpower: The Psychological Science of Self-Control."

Meeting goals has three basic components: (1) establishing the motivation for change and setting a clear goal; (2) monitoring one's behavior toward that goal; and (3) willpower, or the ability to resist short-term temptations or delay gratification in order to meet long-term objectives. Willpower can be thought of as conscious, effortful regulation of the self by the self. It tends to be associated with a "cool" cognitive system of behavior rather than a "hot" emotional one: listening to the angel on your shoulder, rather than the devil.

Interestingly, psychologists have determined that willpower is a limited resource, capable of being depleted. Keeping yourself fueled with food (keeping your blood glucose levels up) is one way of strengthening willpower in the short term. Laughter and humor—lightening your mood—also help willpower. 

Willpower can be exercised. I think of this as mindfulness— and I know I could be more mindful, generally speaking. I came across a list of ten approaches to improving willpower, and most of them count as mindfulness or self-control exercises:

1. Meditate 10 minutes.
2. Correct your posture (when you find yourself slouching, stand up straight).
3. Keep a food diary.
4. Use your opposite hand.
5. Correct your speech (e.g., don’t swear; speak more formally—and so: do not swear).
6. Create and meet self-imposed deadlines.
7. Keep track of your spending.
8. Squeeze a handgrip (this exercises perseverance as well as self-control).
9. Carry around something tempting in order to confront temptation.
10. Be more mindful of your automatic decisions.

Being able to think into the future, toward the desired goal as well as in anticipation of potential roadblocks (or, when dealing with bad habits, triggers), is important too, of course.

So: tomorrow I'm going to sit down and outline a few simple goals for myself—having to do with creativity and some projects I'd like to tackle, as well as with getting more serious exercise. And I'm going to practice at least a couple of these mindfulness exercises. I want to give both my body and my brain a little more of a workout.


  1. Thank you for this. I'm going to star/favorite/save it and return to it, often, I hope. But squeeze a handgrip? Okay. I never would have thought of that, but okay.

  2. Interesting! I notice that these two concepts seem to be in contradiction: "willpower is a limited resource, capable of being depleted" and "willpower can be exercised". Wouldn't one assume that these exercises in willpower would result in willpower being "used up", and thus less available, at least in the immediate?

    I suppose it could be looked as like a muscle, so it can be both weakened and strengthened by use. But, beware the hypothesis which appears to be an answer to all questions!

    Of course, this is coming from a social psychology major, who has seen the flaws in these so-called studies firsthand, and YMMV :)

    thanks for the fresh thoughts!

    1. Exercise and depletion don't strike me as contradictory. One can become stronger and still ultimately run out of energy. Perhaps they're complementary, in a sense?

      And yeah, I take all this stuff with a grain of salt. (I even like looking at horoscopes, just for fun--and in some, I find some wisdom that's worth pondering. Though I wouldn't claim to *believe* astrology!)

      Thank YOU for chipping in here!