Willpower: Good for Nothing.
Turns out, we aren’t that good at self-control.
The good news? Who needs it??
Researchers are discovering that teaching people to resist temptation provides either short-term gains or is just an outright failure.
“Effortful restraint, where you are fighting yourself—the benefits are overhyped,” according to Kentaro Fujita, a psychologist studying self-control at Ohio State University.
Brian Resnick from Vox.com says the implications of this are huge.
“If we accept that brute willpower doesn’t work, we can feel less bad about ourselves when we succumb to temptation. And, we might be able to refocus our efforts on solving problems like obesity.”
So what does work? Because clearly some people are managing their relationship with frosting better than me!
Fujita explains, “We tend to think of people with strong willpower as people who are able to fight this battle effectively. Actually, the people who are really good at self-control never have to fight these battles in the first place.”
A landmark study from 2011 revealed that people who rocked self-control, those who described themselves as ‘good at resisting temptation’ reported fewer temptations throughout the course of the study.
And funnily enough, those who reported using willpower admitted they were not meeting their goals AND they were exhausted from trying!
This, I understand.
“People who are good at self-control seem to be structuring their lives in a way to avoid having to make self-control decisions in the first place, “says researcher and psychologist Brian Galla.
Galla says creating a schedule or lifestyle that makes exercise and eating healthy the easiest most routine thing to do, are the ones most likely to consistently do it.
“A trick to wake up more quickly in the morning is to set the alarm on the other side of the room. That’s not in-the-moment willpower at play, it’s planning.”
Fujita suggests ‘the really good dieter’ wouldn’t buy a cupcake because they wouldn’t have passed by the bakery in the first place. Or, they would create a negative reaction to the cupcake instead of a positive one—i.e., ‘Ick! A cupcake. What an artery-clogging, life-shortening sugar bomb.’ (I’ll let you know if this works!)
“Self-control isn’t a special moral muscle, it’s like any decision. And to improve the decision, we need to improve the environment and give people the skills needed to avoid cake in the first place,” Galla says.
Neuroscientist Elliot Berkman from the University of Oregon believes the term ‘self-control’ needs to be abolished.
“It’s really no different than any other decision making.”
Berkman is testing out a theory in his lab called ‘temptation bundling’ where people make activities more enjoyable by adding a fun component to them.
The research is still young but one study has already showed people were more likely to work out when they could listen to an audio copy The Hunger Games.
I’m personally eager to try out some of these ideas. I’d like to create an index of strategies and habits you guys use to make the ‘healthy’ thing to do, the easiest thing to do.
Please email me your ideas and I’ll compile the tips to share!