Monday, December 17, 2007


I was skimming through the NY Times online and found this recent article entitled, "How to Boost Your Willpower." It presents a few theories on how to improve self-control, citing that it's a limited resource within us but we can do a few things to increase our chances for success.

In summary, here's the advice:
  • Diet - Healthy glucose levels allow us to exercise greater self-control. The advice of eating smaller meals throughout the day is great for dieting, mental acumen, and now also willpower.
  • Mindset - Laughter, positive memories, and long-term thinking help with self-control:
“You want to look good in a bikini next summer but you’re looking at a piece of chocolate cake now,’’ said Dr. Vohs. “When we get people to think about values we move them to the long-term state, and that cools off the tempting stimuli.’’
  • Start small to gain practice - Just like most things, willpower can improve with practice. Practicing self-control with a few small tasks will help you be able to better respond to bigger challenges:
"A few studies show that people who were instructed for two weeks to make small changes like improving their posture or brushing their teeth with their opposite hand improved their scores on laboratory tests of self-control. The data aren’t conclusive, but they do suggest that the quest for self-improvement should start small. A vow to stop swearing, to make the bed every day or to give up just one food may be a way to strengthen your self-control, giving you more willpower reserves for bigger challenges later. “Learning to bring your behavior under control even with arbitrary rules does build character in that it makes you better able to achieve the things you want to achieve later on,'’ said Dr. Baumeister."
This article is a good follow-up to my post "Gumption for Good Things" that similarly discussed the difficulty of doing "good things." My suggestion is that one can increase willpower by reminding him/herself of how much they enjoy the outcome (e.g. "I don't like lifting, but I like having lifted"). By momentarily recreating that feeling, we're inspiring ourselves to exhibit willpower and do what we "should" do.

Of course, these are just theories and suggestions. And even though "theories" often change with the times (e.g. the USDA food pyramid), the suggestions above can't hurt; even if it turns out that these aren't "proven" to help self-control, they're beneficial habits for life in general.

Obviously, as with most mental challenges, one theory or tactic may work for one person and may not work for another. Either way, it's good to have an arsenal to pick from and learn tricks and best practices from others!
  • Your thoughts? Please feel free to comment...

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