What if I was to tell you that everything you know about willpower is wrong?
Well you wouldn’t be alone! Because so do most of the world! No willpower to diet or workout is quiet common among us mortals.
But don’t worry! In this article I am going to show you exactly how willpower works and what it is.
I’ll also share some simple strategies that you can use TODAY on how to gain willpower and self-discipline. All without mumbo jumbo.
What You’ll Learn
- The 3 Types of Willpower (you use them every day!)
- The Muscle Model of Willpower (hint: resist that pizza and you may end up going on a shopping spree!)
- The Most Famous (and Shocking) Willpower Experiment ever done (done in 1972 but still debated to this day!)
- How you (yes YOU!) Can Have More Willpower
I decided to split this willpower tutorial into 2 separate articles. In this first article we would talk about all the cool science and quirky experiments on willpower.
In the second article we would show you how you can have immense willpower!
Why do we have it all wrong?
Do you know anyone who sticks to their diets and workout plans without fail?
I am sure you would think that person has a lot of willpower compared to us mere mortals!
Wouldn’t it be nice also for us to have a nice full jar of willpower to call upon whenever we feel tempted to skip the gym or break our diets?
Well here is some BAD news for you: Willpower is like a muscle. The more you use it the more tired it gets and it runs out.
Yeah I know it sucks.
But the GOOD news? Willpower can be strengthened….just like how we make a muscle stronger in the gym.
Read on to see how. But first let’s look at a little experiment done at Stanford University in the 1972 that involved a single marshmallow.
The Marshmallow Experiment
In 1972 a group of young kids aged between 4 and 5 years old were brought in a private room at Stanford University.
A delicious marshmallow was placed on a table in front of each kid. A brilliant researcher by the name of Walter Mischel was the driving force behind all this.
The researcher then offered a deal to each child.
He told the kids that he would leave the room for 15 minutes and while he is gone if the child did not eat the marshmallow then he would get a second one.
If he did eat it though then he wouldn’t get a second one.
So simple deal: ‘look here Bubba. If you eat that marshmallow then no more for you. But if you don’t touch it you would get an extra one. Now be a good kid and listen up’.
There were hidden cameras in the room and as you can imagine there was some pretty funny footage. Some kids ate the marshmallow at an instant, some waited with clenched fists until they gave in a few minutes later and some waited until the researcher came back.
So what does a marshmallow has to do with willpower? To find out we need to journey to 40 years later.
40 Years Later……
Well of course Bubba and pals went about their daily lives after sitting in a room with a marshmallow for 15 minutes.
But the researchers tracked Bubba and each of his pals to determine their progress in other areas of their lives as the years rolled on.
The number of years tracked? More than 40!
Imagine having a constant monitor on you for 40 years!
What they found was surprising. The kids who were able to delay eating the first marshmallow and waited until the researcher came back to have the second one ended up with higher SAT scores, being less obese, lower levels of substance abuse and better scores in a number of other life measures.
This monitoring went on for over more than 40 years and it was found that the group of kids who waited for that second marshmallow succeeded in whatever indicator that was measured!
Key Take Away: Willpower is critical for success in life
Willpower is one greedy SOB. This guy has not one but three centers allocated to him in the brain. These three areas are located within the pre-frontal cortex.
We have discussed the pre-frontal cortex in previous articles and we have seen how important that area of the brain is when it comes to achieving our goals and making decisions.
The pre-frontal cortex takes up a larger portion of the brain as compared to other species. That’s why humans saves for retirement but you wouldn’t see your dog saving kibble for retirement. It gives us the ability to plan and think logically of the future.
Three Types of ‘Will’
According to Kelly McGonigal, author of the Will Power Instinct, there are 3 types of willpower each with a different piece pre-frontal cortex real estate. These are:
- ‘I Will’ Power
- ‘I Wouldn’t’ Power
- ‘I Want Power’
Let’s see how these three plays out in real life.
The ‘I Will Power’ kicks in when you are on the treadmill with headphones blasting away while you walk away some pounds.
But you want to go watch TV instead. Despite your TV urge you tell yourself ‘I will stay on the treadmill‘. Thanks to the ‘I Will’ power.
The ‘I Wouldn’t’ Power kicks in when you see that huge slice of chocolate cake dripping with melted brownie fudge and you decide you are not going to have it.
‘ I wouldn’t have you no matter how tempting you look! Thanks to ‘I Wouldn’t’ power.
The ‘I Want Power’ kicks in when you decide what you really want, keeping track of goals and desires. It kicks in when you say to yourself ‘I want to look like Brad Pitt’ or ‘I want to save more money to give Bubba a better education’.
Willpower is like a muscle. It’s a limited resource. I mean there is only so many bicep curls you can do before the biceps give up right?
Using the bicep analogy it’s the same way that willpower gets depleted as you go about your day to day activities:
Getting out of bed (I used 2lbs of willpower!), navigating that short cut road full of pot holes on the way to work (10.37896lbs of willpower gone)!, not talking to that hot babe at the coffee shop lunch time (25.98 lbs.’ of willpower used up) and so on.
We can’t expect the pre-frontal cortex to work its magic 24/7. It’s going to tire out at some point and as a result so would our willpower.
Just One Jar of It
Some of us think we have stronger willpower in one area of our lives and weaker willpower in others. But this is not so. We have just ONE limited jar of willpower. And that same jar is used whether you are trying to stick to a diet or save more money.
Roy Baumeister, author of the Willpower: Re-Discovering the Greatest Human Strength describes an experiment where one group of participants were asked to resist hot huge delicious chocolate cookies and the other group were asked to resist radishes.
That’s a no brainer. I mean who has any problem resisting a radish! Obviously the group asked to resist the cookies had to exercise more willpower than the radish resisting group.
Both groups were then asked to solve a difficult geometric puzzle (the puzzle was designed to be unsolvable). The group who resisted the cookies (hence using more willpower) gave up much faster at trying to solve the puzzle than the other group!
Two totally unrelated task: resisting chocolate cookies and solving a puzzle used the same jar of willpower.
Baumeister gives other examples such as refraining from gossiping at work may cause you to eat more desert at the cafeteria which in turn may make it harder to focus at your desk.
How To Have More Willpower
Well to find this out you would have to read the second article which I am working on currently and should be posting up next week.
Keep tuned in as we develop our strong willpower to crush any diet or workout!