How To Increase Willpower

Willpower - rediscovering the greatest human strength

Eric Barker wrote a post on his blog called “How to increase willpower: Extended Interview with Roy Baumeister” that I thought highly related to goals, habits, and New Year’s Resolutions. Roy Baumeister wrote the book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength and is a Professor of Psychology at Florida State University. I definitely recommend reading the book, and/or the entire article and interview from Eric Barker, but here are some of the highlights related to accomplishing goals.

Top 3 Takeaways:

1. Making decisions and exerting self-control deplete willpower, so when setting goals or resolutions, instead of setting 5 of them and failing them all, try to accomplish one at a time in a sequence, starting with the easiest one.

2. Make things a habit! Limiting the decisions you have to make is a good strategy. The more you follow a routine, plan in advance, or operate on the basis of habit, the less moment-to-moment strain there is, and the less demand for willpower.

3. Willpower and self-control require energy, so the easiest way to boost willpower is to eat and rest.


Here are some more detailed notable excerpts from the article:

-Self-control is like a muscle: Many tests have concluded that willpower requires energy, and after exerting self-control in one task, and then coming to a second task, they would do worse on the second one. It is as if their willpower was tired or depleted.

-If making decisions and exerting self-control deplete willpower, one solution is to make less decisions. From the article: ‘One thing you can do to take the load off is to make fewer decisions. President Obama, or more likely somebody on his staff, read about our decision fatigue research. Obama decided he was just going to wear blue or gray suits. He said, “I don’t want to waste any time deciding what to wear or what to eat. I have difficult decisions to make.” It’s a very good application of our strategy. The more you follow a routine, plan in advance, or operate on the basis of habit, the less moment-to-moment strain there is, and the less demand for willpower.’

-Mind over matter is real:

‘…there are a variety of things that our labs and other labs have been showing that can produce short-term improvements in self-control.

  • Thinking about somebody else who has good self-control, who sets a good example.
  • Taking responsibility. We found if we randomly assigned people to be the boss that they don’t show that depletion effect as fast. It’s postponed.
  • Believing that you have lots of willpower seems to help.
  • Motivation. If something’s important, suddenly people can perform well again even though they’re depleted.

-What’s the easiest way to increase willpower? EAT AND SLEEP, two things that are highly related to energy.

-Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail – And How To Make Them Succeed. I’ll just copy and paste this next part straight from the article:

Roy Baumeister:

People will make five New Years’ resolutions. Each time you work on one, you’re taking away your capacity to work on the other. You don’t have any more willpower magically. You have the same amount. If I say I’m going to use it to eat more healthy food, and stop yelling at my romantic partner, and I’m going to read some books, and stick with an exercise program, and stop swearing, the energy I put into one will take away from the success of others. No wonder that New Years’ resolutions have such a dismal reputation for failure.

Instead of making them all at once, make them in sequence and start with the easiest one. If swearing is the easiest, then do that one first because that will strengthen your willpower and increase your capacity when you move onto the harder ones. If you make this resolution and you actually keep it, your body gets used to exerting self-control and it becomes stronger and more ready to take on another challenge.

Psychology has just really found two traits that predict success across a broad range of occupations, and activities. One is intelligence, and the other is self-control. The key difference to me is that it’s very difficult to improve intelligence. There were a variety of strategies tried with Head Start and things like that. Those don’t really seem to produce any lasting gains in intelligence. Whereas self-control can be improved, even in adulthood. This is a great avenue by which psychology can maybe help people and make a positive difference in lots of people’s lives. 

Last notable quote: People have said for centuries that you can build character by making yourself do things you don’t want to do, that by exerting self-discipline you can make yourself into a stronger person. That does appear to be correct.

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One thought on “How To Increase Willpower

  1. Pingback: Environment Design For Your Habits | SMART GOALS | Goal Setting App for iPhone

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