What You Know About Willpower is Wrong: Finite to Infinite

Adam Letica
in Uncategorized

July 6, 2022

Why do we make unhealthy and unproductive choices — even when we know we should do better?

If you ask most people, they will say that poor choices are a result of a “lack of willpower”.

But research from Stanford is beginning to unravel the common myth that willpower is something we can “run out of”.

In fact — it’s possible willpower can be expanded to near limitless potential. More importantly — there are tools we can use to ward off temptation and maximize our willpower.

What is Willpower?

Most people believe willpower is the ability to make themselves do something they don’t want to do. I however disagree.

I believe willpower is the ability to make a decision or action in alignment with my values or desires despite it being difficult or uncomfortable.

The reality is that we don’t just need willpower to do things we don’t want to do but also to do things we do want to do!

I’m using willpower to write this article right now. Thinking willpower only correlates to things we don’t want to do will cascade a self-fulfilling prophecy keeping us from things that truly matter to us.

Is Willpower Limited

“In the 1990’s Roy Baumeister and his colleagues coined the “ego depletion” theory which basically stated that the more willpower you use — the less you have to exert in future tasks.

In the seminal study, researchers asked two sets of test subjects to wait in a room where there were two plates of food. One plate held fresh-baked cookies, their scent wafting through the room. On the other plate lay dull red and white radishes. Each group was allowed to eat from only one plate but not the other. The thinking went that the group allowed to eat only radishes would have to expend serious willpower to resist eating the cookies.

Next, the researchers gave both groups a puzzle to work on. Unbeknownst to the study’s participants, the puzzle was designed to be impossible to finish. The researchers wanted to see which group would work on the task longer, and anticipated that the people in the radish group — who would have spent significant reserves of energy trying not to eat the cookies — would give up on the puzzle sooner.

That’s exactly what happened. The study participants who had denied themselves cookies lasted an average of eight minutes, while the cookie eaters (and a control group who did only the puzzle-solving part of the experiment) lasted nineteen minutes. The study concluded that the radish eaters’ egos had clearly been depleted.” — Excerpt Nir and Far willpower article.

However, in recent years the study’s results have been disputed. Multiple researchers have attempted to replicate Baumeister experiments (using approved protocols) only to find no sign of ego depletion. Is there another side to this story?

Unlimited Willpower — If You Believe It

New research proposes another explanation for why we run out of steam.

In a study conducted by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck and her colleagues, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dweck concluded that signs of ego depletion were observed only in test subjects who believed willpower was a limited resource. Those participants who did not see willpower as finite did not show signs of ego depletion.

It appears willpower may be just another example of the way belief drives behavior.

If you want to learn more about willpower and tools you can implement to maximize yours check out the video below!


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