Strategies That Promise to Help You Have ‘Infinite Willpower’

Many people believe that willpower is fixed and finite. But we can make it grow with the help of several powerful strategies.

We all face difficult days that seem to come to test our self-control.

Let’s say you’re a bartender, for example, and some of your customers are particularly rude and demanding, but you manage to stay elegant when serving them.

Or you may be finishing an important project and need to stay focused in silence, with no distractions or distractions.

If you’re on a diet, perhaps you’ve spent the last few hours resisting jam.

In each of these cases, you used your willpower, the ability to avoid short-term temptations and ignore unwanted thoughts, impulses or feelings, as psychologists define it.

Apparently, some people have much greater reserves of willpower than others. They find it easier to control their emotions, avoid procrastination, and stay true to their goals, always seeming to control their behavior with an iron fist.

In fact, you may know some lucky people who, after a hard day at work, still find the motivation to do something productive like exercise.

Our reserves of self-control and mental focus are apparently shaped by mindset.

And recent studies suggest powerful strategies for anyone to increase their willpower, with immense benefits for productivity, health and happiness.

empty the ego

Until recently, prevailing psychological theory held that willpower is like a kind of battery.

You can start your day with a full charge, but every time you need to control your thoughts, behaviors, or feelings, you drain some of the battery’s charge.

Without the ability to rest and recharge, these resources are dangerously scarce, making it very difficult to maintain patience, focus, and resistance to temptation.

Laboratory tests have apparently provided evidence of this process. After asking participants to resist the urge to eat cookies kept on a table, for example, they showed less persistence in solving a math problem because their willpower reserves were depleted.

Deriving from the Freudian term for the part of the mind that is responsible for controlling our impulses, this process is known as “ego depletion”.

People with strong self-control may have greater initial reserves of willpower, but even these are eventually depleted when put under pressure.

But in 2010, psychologist Veronika Job published a study that questioned the foundations of this theory. You have presented fascinating evidence that ego depletion depends on people’s core beliefs.

Job is a professor of psychology of motivation at the University of Vienna, Austria. He began the study by designing a questionnaire for participants to rate a series of statements, following a scale of 1 (strongly agree) to 6 (strongly disagree). Questions included:

  • As situations that challenge you with temptations pile up, it becomes increasingly difficult to resist those temptations.
  • Intense mental activity depletes your resources and you need to recharge later.
  • When you have just resisted a strong temptation, you feel strengthened and can resist new temptations.
  • Your mental strength feeds on itself. Even after strenuous mental effort, you manage to keep doing more.

If you identify more with the first two statements, you are considered to have a “limited” view of willpower. But if you more agree with the last two statements, then your view of willpower is considered “unlimited.”

Next, Job gave the study participants some standard lab tests to examine their mental focus, given that focus depends on our reserves of willpower.

Job concluded that narrow-minded people often behave exactly as predicted by the theory of ego depletion.

After performing a task that required intense concentration (such as painstakingly correcting a boring text), they found it much more difficult to pay attention to a subsequent task than if they had rested beforehand.

People with unlimited vision have shown no signs of ego depletion. They did not show a decline in their mental focus after performing a mentally exhausting activity.

Apparently, the mindset of the willpower study participants was a self-fulfilling prophecy. While they believed their willpower was easily depleted, their ability to resist temptation and distraction quickly dissolved. But if they believed that “mental strength feeds on itself,” that’s exactly what happened.

Job quickly replicated these findings in other contexts. Working with Krishna Savani of Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, he showed that beliefs about willpower apparently vary from country to country.

They concluded that the boundless mindset is more common among Indian students than in the United States, which was reflected in the mental toughness tests.

In recent years, some scientists have questioned the reliability of laboratory tests of ego depletion. But Job also showed that people’s mindset about willpower relates to many real-life scenarios.

He asked college students to fill out questionnaires about their activities twice a day for two non-consecutive weekly periods. And, as you might expect, some days have been much harder than others, leading to feelings of burnout.

Most participants recovered to some degree overnight, but those with the limitless mindset actually saw their productivity increase the next day, as if they were energized by the increased pressure.

Again, it seems that his belief that “mental strength feeds on itself” has become his reality.

Other studies have shown that the willpower mindset can predict students’ procrastination levels before final exams and grades.

Participants with unlimited vision wasted less time. And when faced with the high pressure of their classes, students with unlimited vision also showed a better ability to maintain self-control in other areas of life. For example, they were less likely to eat junk food or spend on impulse.

Those who believed their willpower was easily depleted by their work were more likely to commit these addictions, perhaps because they felt their reserves of self-control had already been depleted by academic work.

Mindset’s influence on willpower can also extend to many domains, such as exercise.

Navin Kaushal, a professor of health sciences at Indiana University in the United States, and his colleagues have shown that mindset can influence people’s exercise habits.

Those with unlimited beliefs about willpower, for example, have a harder time mustering the motivation to exercise.

And a study by psychology professor ZoĆ« Francis of Canada’s Fraser Valley University found surprisingly similar results.

After following more than 300 participants for three weeks, he concluded that boundless-minded people are more willing to exercise and less likely to eat junk food than boundless-minded people.

Significantly, these differences are especially pronounced at night, when the demands of daily activities have begun to take their toll on those who believe their self-control can easily wear thin.

How to increase willpower

If you already have an unlimited willpower mindset, these breakthroughs might satisfy you. But what can we do if we live with the belief that our reserves of self-control are easily depleted?

Job’s studies indicate that simply learning about these cutting-edge scientific studies from reading short, accessible texts can help change people’s beliefs, at least in the short term.

Apparently, knowledge is power. If true, just reading this article may have already started building your mental toughness.

You can speed up this process by telling other people about what you’ve learned. Research indicates that sharing information helps solidify our shift in mindset. This phenomenon is known as the “talking is believing” effect, and it also helps spread positive behaviors among people.

Lessons about the limitless nature of willpower can be learned from childhood.

Researchers at Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania, both in the United States, recently devised a children’s book to teach preschoolers the idea that exercising willpower can be energizing, not exhausting, and that the self-control can increase the more we practice it.

Children who heard the story showed greater self-control in a later-administered “delayed gratification” test than their peers who heard a different story.

The test gave them the option to give up a small gift now to get a bigger one later.

A helpful strategy for changing your mindset can be to recall a time when you worked on a mentally taxing task for the sheer pleasure of doing it.

It may have been a task at work, for example, that other people apparently found difficult, but which you found rewarding. Or perhaps a hobby, like learning a new song on the piano, that requires intense concentration but seems simple to you.

A recent study concluded that practicing this type of recall naturally shifts people’s beliefs towards an unlimited mindset, as they can see evidence of their own mental toughness.

For more evidence, you can start with small tests of self-control that make a desired change in your life, such as avoiding junk food for two weeks, staying away from social media at work, or showing more patience with an annoying loved one, for example. .

Once you’ve proven to yourself that your willpower can increase, it may become easier to resist other kinds of temptations or distractions.

You cannot expect a miracle to happen right away. But, with persistence, you should see your mindset change and, with it, your increased ability to control your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Therefore, your actions will push you towards your goals.

* David Robson is a science writer and book author The Expectation Effect: How Your Thinking Can Transform Your Life (in free translation from the English), published in the UK by Canongate and in the US by Henry Holt. Your Twitter account is @d_a_robson.

Read the original version of this report (in English) on the BBC Worklife website.

#Strategies #Promise #Infinite #Willpower

Add Comment