How Your Beliefs About Willpower Maybe Holding You Back

Have you ever wondered how some people get so much done in 24 hours? How, after a full day, they are roaring with energy and are still up for round two, three and four? Well, it turns out that, like Body Posture’s effect on Confidence, one’s belief about willpower and its capacity, is what drives them to excel and achieve more. Dr. Veronica Job (Univ of Zürich), Dr. Katharina Berenecker (Univ of Zürich), Dr Gregory Walton (Stanford Univ) and Dr. Carol Dweck, ran a series of experiments to identify the perceived capacity of willpower and its impact on people’s functioning.

The Thought Process

Will power was once thought to be like a muscle that tires as one continues to use it. For example, whenever you wake up all geared up to diet and end that resolution by 10:00pm at night. Well, you survive most of your day, and almost all of your day, but towards the end, you give in. That is what one means by the idea that willpower is like a muscle. However, the scientists of this study have proposed the idea that

Willpower is ‘nonlimited’ wherein willpower does not easily tired like a muscle, but instead it may get rejuvenated on being used up, and does so by promoting more self-regulation and better performances in people with demanding lifestyles.

The scientists suggested that students holding a nonlimited theory (those students who believe that willpower is more like a belief instead of a muscle) of willpower who have a demanding course load and lifestyle would have higher grades that students with a limited theory (those who believe that will power is like a muscle and will eventually tire out) in a similar situation.

What They Did

113 participants completed 5 questionnaires, during 5 weeks.  These questionnaires asked questions regarding self-regulatory failures like procrastinating, snacking, time management and failure to control emotions.

What the Found

The more students felt that willpower was limited, the more they procrastinated and the less they engaged in self-regulation. Students who had demanding lifestyles, and had a nonlimited theory of willpower, engaged in more regulations. Also, students who had a nonlimited theory of willpower and had a demanding lifestyle also achieved better grades.

What This Means For Us

This means two things – to do well we need the right belief and we must also be doing a lot of things. Now, scientists are not very sure as to why this is the case, but my hunch is that

when we have a lot of things that we focus on, for example, academics, one hobby and one passion, we have a lot more to focus on and lot more to energize us.

So in order to do well and if you are looking to do a lot of things, then, remember that your belief system will really matter. Therefore, 

  1. Pay attention to your thoughts
  2. Refocus negative thoughts into positive plausible mini goals
  3. Teach yourself to believe in the impossibility of your dreams and train to work hard for them one day at a time
The Paper

Job, V., Walton, G. M., Bernecker, K., & Dweck, C. S. (2015). Implicit theories about willpower predict self-regulation and grades in everyday life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108(4), 637-647. doi:10.1037/pspp0000014


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