Strengthen Your Willpower Muscle and Set Yourself up for Success

Willpower separates the haves from the have-nots in life. Whether it’s looking for a new Davis apartment early so you get your pick of the lot (BTW – winter is the best time to do this), studying early and often for finals, or looking for a job before graduation day, a lot of people tend to put off the less delightful tasks in life.

Those folks with finely honed willpower get the best apartment, grade, and job. Those who don’t live in a smelly shack, flunk out of school, and sling burgers until Social Security kicks in.

Yeah, we thought you’d keep reading.

Willpower as a muscle for habit formation

At the turn of the 21st century, a landmark meta-study was conducted that looked at the question “Does Self Control Resemble a Muscle?” After reviewing hundreds of studies over the past few decades, the authors concluded that the answer was “Yes, it does.”

Social scientists all over the world started to examine willpower and self-regulation from this “muscle” metaphor. For instance, if willpower is like a muscle, and muscles can get stronger over time with training, could willpower similarly be trained and strengthened?

What happens when you make people develop habits?

In the mid 2000′s, Australian researchers Megan Oaten and Ken Cheng conducted a series of experiments to see if willpower can be increased or strengthened over time. In their first study, published in 2006, they put a group of people through a customized two month exercise program, where they hit the gym 3x a week to do weight training and aerobic workouts.

At the end of the two months, participants, most of whom were rather sedentary, strengthened their muscles and cardiovascular system. But what about their self-control?

Recovery of willpower was enhanced

To test their willpower, all participants had track a bunch of moving dots across a screen (a digital version of “which cup is covering the ball?” game). People usually do a good job on this task but when done immediately after being asked to suppress thoughts on a certain topic (which sapped their willpower), people make more mistakes.

Oaten and Cheng observed how people did on this visual tracking task before, during, and after the two months of exercise.




The conclusion: forming a habit around exercise can boost your ability to resist willpower sapping tasks and do well on activities that require high willpower.

But then things got really interesting.

To find out how interesting they get, read the rest of the article here.