Willpower: Is It All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

The American Psychological Association (APA) released a report this week on the science of willpower.  It’s some interesting stuff.  Especially in light of the fact that most of us would say we need more willpower.  Whether it comes to eating right, exercising more, keeping a tighter reign on our finances, cleaning our homes more often, or watching less TV – most of us have at least one area in our lives where more self-control would be welcomed.

Here’s a taste of the press release issued by APA:

In 2011, 27 percent of Stress in America survey respondents reported that lack of willpower was the most significant barrier to change. Yet although many people blame faulty willpower for their imperfect choices, it’s clear they haven’t given up hope. A majority of respondents believe that willpower is something that can be learned. Those respondents are on to something. Recent research suggests some ways in which willpower can in fact be strengthened with practice. On the other hand, many survey participants reported that having more time for themselves would help them overcome their lack of willpower. Yet willpower doesn’t automatically grow when you have extra time on your hands. So how can individuals resist in the face of temptation? In recent years, scientists have made some compelling discoveries about the ways that willpower works. This report will explore our current understanding of self-control.

One of the most helpful things in the report are the tips offered offered for strengthening self control.  In particular, I like the “implementation intention” idea which basically means being prepared for situations that might be tough for you.  If you are pinching pennies, for example: “If I go to the mall and see a sweater I love, then I will take a night to think about it and make sure I really want/need the sweater before I spend my hard earned money on it.”  I love practicing our reactions and behaviors before the tough situations occur – it’s really effective.