Putting the will in willpower

If you are a student who is going through end of year exams, or if you are a worker who has major projects due, then you are probably working long hours. There may be times when you feel as though you can’t go any further. If that is you, then you will be fascinated by some new research which shows that it is your beliefs that decide how long you can keep going.

It has been believed for some time that when it comes to willpower and the ability to stay focussed that we have a limited reserve. This means that once you drain that willpower well, you must replenish it in order to keep going. Now new research has been done which challenges that theory.

The research done at Stanford University was based on a series of four experiments aimed at assessing and manipulating the subjects’ beliefs about willpower. They then gave the subjects a tiring task and then gave them standard concentration tests.

The results showed that those who were led to believe that willpower is a limited resource did worse on the concentration tests than those who believed that they had control over their willpower.

Another interesting finding was that leading up to exam time at Stanford, students who believed the “limited resource” theory ate 24 per cent more junk food and procrastinated 35 per cent more than the others.

These findings do run counter to current prevailing theory but they are not entirely new. Remember the “little engine that could”? Whoever wrote that children’s story already understood this principle. The little engine found himself stuck at the bottom of a big hill which he knew was too big for him with his tiny engine. He got himself over the big hill by saying to himself “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can”.

Of course adequate sleep, sound nutrition, and reasonable rest and recreation are all part of balanced living and being your best. However, if you are required to go the extra mile with your work on occasions then forget your chocolate breaks, power naps, and regenerative procrastinations: instead, chant like the “little engine”, believe that you have the capacity to do it and you will. You can have willpower or you can have won’t-power; it’s up to you.

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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