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Willpower, cookies and radishes

Updated: Nov 28, 2020

What does your willpower look like? Do you hit the gym or have you been lazy?

Reading time: 2 minutes

Many believe they could improve their lives if only they had more of that mysterious thing called willpower.

With more self-control we would all eat right, exercise, avoid drugs and alcohol, save, stop procrastinating, and achieve all sorts of noble goals.

We have many common names for willpower: determination, self-discipline, self-control, ...

But at its essence, willpower is the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals. 

What you are not told is that willpower is like a muscle: it is subject to fatigue for overuse.

See the example of this test made by the lab of Roy Baumeister. He brought subjects into a room filled with the aroma of fresh-baked cookies. The table before them held a plate of the cookies and a bowl of radishes. Some subjects were asked to sample the cookies, while others were asked to eat the radishes. Afterward, they were given 30 minutes to complete a difficult geometric puzzle. He found that people who ate radishes (and therefore resisted the tempting cookies) gave up on the puzzle after about eight minutes, while the lucky cookie-eaters persevered for nearly 19 minutes, on average. Resisting the cookies, it seemed, drained the subjects’ self-control for subsequent situations.

The good thing is: willpower is a muscle trainable as the other ones.

Also, the effects of willpower depletion may be mitigated by positive moods, beliefs, and attitudes and with the right motivation, you may be able to persevere even when your willpower strength has been used.

Stay curious, Mindset Lab. Family!

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