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Against Willpower (2017) (nautil.us)
132 points by user_235711 10 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 67 comments

I thought I came up with this independently--glad to hear it's not just me.

I quit smoking by pretending there were three of me: past, present, and future. Initially, it was up to present me to conspire with past me to trick future me into doing what we wanted. This took the form of letting my social group see me tearing a cigarette into little pieces every time I usually would smoke one. Destroyed about two cartons this way. I knew they'd make fun of future me for being so wasteful if I ever started smoking again.

Once we got a bit of traction when it comes to reigning in that jerk (future me) we began to realize that diplomacy was more effective than trickery. The compromise now is exactly one cigarette per year. Five years in and I think all parties are happy with the agreement. There's a sort of trans-temporal respect we're building.

This may sound like the ravings of a madman, but people occasionally comment on how balanced and in control I seem to be. I think it's a better way.

Sounds like you created a system instead of a goal. Check this out: https://www.inc.com/john-boitnott/dilbert-s-scott-adams-on-w...

Most people are constantly screwing over their future self. I found this to be a useful thought process as well. Also, I quit smoking.

This is definitely not ravings of a madman, more like an extremely useful way to think of your self. your self is only this moment, nothing more. Past moments are different people who happen to share most of your memory, basically you have one way direct brain-to-brain communication with your past/future self.

In this way, doing things that are enjoyable in the moment but have negative consequences in the future, is not much different from doing something enjoyable that has negative consequences to another person in the present. That is to say, both are morally wrong. Ironically, someone with strong moral sense is far more likely to do the first, to hurt the person they can empathize with the most! (because they will literally become that person lol) Maybe some parallel with "hurting the ones you love most", I dunno though I haven't thought that through.

Your past self hopefully is like your best possible friend who does favors and generally tries to make your life easier. The future self is a stranger you know you will meet soon, and hopefully you can make a good impression. Present self gets to choose whether to do the right thing or not.

I read that 90% of all smokers stop smoking sometimes in their life and I just could not accept being in the 10% who cannot. 5 years too :) congrats

Similarly, you might enjoy learning about IFS, Internal Family Systems therapy. It's a psychotherapy approach where you interact with yourself as a series of independent personalities, each with their own motives.

The guided meditation might make the concepts a little more obvious.


I think this is a really cool mind-hack. I'm glad to see it worked.

I feel like the other commenters here are missing the point of the article. The current scientific understanding of motivation and willpower is severely lacking. The author is pointing out this fact. And while he does not have a thorough discussion about a solution, it doesn't take away from his thesis: willpower is poorly defined.

I agree with you, and felt the article was well-written. While reading the first half of the article, I was mentally preparing the comment I would leave, thinking that the author was casting a false dichotomy: that, in keeping with the exhortation of Yoda, all one must do to achieve anything is cast aside artificial mental limits.

"Of course willpower exists," I thought. "The fact that it's limited is a symptom of the fact that we are physical entities, and like a muscle, we can exercise it gradually over time to expand that resource."

A few paragraphs later, the author directly addressed the "muscle" analogy, and tore down the points I had intended to make.

I would say the author does point to several concrete examples of superior approaches, including the powerful tools of reframing, moderating physiological response, self-distraction, and building tolerance to and managing negative emotional response.

I felt that the author's examples of how the concept of willpower has been used to shift blame in society were powerful, as well. I think that evolution has given us a strong bias toward the idea that if trying something doesn't work, trying much harder will. Extinction bursts are one example of this. The counterproductive flicker of rage I sometimes feel when working with uncooperative, small, delicate parts, which insists I should use large amounts of physical force, is another. Large amounts of physical force are seldom the right solution in modern times, but in the ancestral environment, it likely was.

I am glad I finished the article. It fits with most of my beliefs, but has also changed my mind, which is the hallmark of a great think piece, in my humble opinion.

> The counterproductive flicker of rage I sometimes feel when working with uncooperative, small, delicate parts, which insists I should use large amounts of physical force ...

I specifically remember learning to control those impulses as a child while playing with toys that consisted of sealed, plastic labirynth with few small metal balls inside that you are supposed to guide to few specific indented spots in the labirynth.

I count this learning experience as one of my greatest lifes achievements.

> The counterproductive flicker of rage I sometimes feel when working with uncooperative, small, delicate parts, which insists I should use large amounts of physical force, is another. Large amounts of physical force are seldom the right solution in modern times, but in the ancestral environment, it likely was.

There is a learned skill to know when to use large amounts of force either physically, emotionally, and/or mentally. The key is knowing when, and for how long which is not always easy or clear.

I feel like you're missing other commenters' points. The thesis of the article is not "willpower is poorly defined". The thesis is right in the title: "Willpower is a dangerous, old idea that needs to be scrapped". The chosen title and much of the verbiage would be ..very odd if the main thesis were what you claim. The article might successfully argue the much weaker latter thesis, but other commenters are rebutting the main thesis.

My apologies, I wasn't stating his thesis in full. "Poorly defined" in the scientific sense. And to address your concern: a title should not be a thesis, thesis' of articles can be implied, and other commenters to not appear to be discussing the content of this precise article.

I read the article as against the word not being scientific enough because it doesn't differentiate between the competing theories. He may have a point for specialists in the field, in specific circumstances, a layman may just want to communicate the concept without knowing the details.

To use software terminology, he's arguing against abstraction in favour of implementation specifics.

No, it's just typical Twitter/Facebook era reactionary writing. The author is likely in some type of bubble, probably behavioral science, possibily behavior nutrition, and feels an artificial need to right the wrongs of an algorithmically generated appearance of a wrong on the world. In this case, that people are not as aware of behavioral science as the author and others in the bubble the author consumes their media in.

I typically don't like to read into the motivations of articles (or people's actions for that matter) and I take their words as an independent object. Given the article has a logical flow with plenty of high quality citations, I'd say his thesis of "willpower is ill-defined" is a valid statement.

EDIT: The author is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia University, whether or not that affects your view of the article is your prerogative.

My experience managing my own procrastination for years makes me think this could be true. I go to the gym to avoid cleaning my aquarium, I'll rewrite a software module for a personal project to avoid some undesirable work. The avoiding activity doesn't seem to take any willpower, but does when they become the avoided activity. Last winter I didn't go on vacation, but took 2 weeks off to catch up on personal projects and training, etc and what I realized is that those side projects require more than full time hours. As the story about the wine drinking lawyer in the blog post, maybe the problem is we don't really appreciate how much stress we are under. It causes anxiety that makes it extremely difficult to act.

I'm also against the idea of willpower in general. All of the people I know with the most "willpower" are just those with great habits; they're not actually exercising willpower 95% of the time we think they are. They're just doing their regular routine and they didn't have to act contrary to our perception of their wants/needs.

Some podcast I was listening to had an Olympic athlete on it, they asked her how she avoided slipping up on dietary things like birthday cake, free pizza, etc. She said she doesn't use willpower, she just has a couple bites only. It's this rule she lives by, no stress, no anxiety, just a couple bites and that's it.

I guess I'll follow her lead and take a couple of bites out of this SQL task...

> All of the people I know with the most "willpower" are just those with great habits; they're not actually exercising willpower 95% of the time we think they are.

Exactly. Willpower and motivation are fleeting. Real change comes from building habits with self-discipline. This is also why when I want to make a change I do it every day and/or on a very fixed schedule.

People ask how I get up every morning at 6am and workout. I have been doing it for so long I don't really have an answer. It is just what I do. Do I always want to get up and workout? Not really, but what I want doesn't matter. I get up and do it anyways.

"Do I always want to get up and workout? Not really, but what I want doesn't matter. I get up and do it anyways."

That's because it's a habit. We are both conditioned chimps. Working out takes NO willpower for us.

Yes. It's just self-discipline at this point. I find habits and self-discipline to be closely related.

Where willpower/motivation does come into play is the formation of self-discipline and habits. People often need that spark to get started. Look at someone like Goggins with insane self-discipline now, but if you listen to his story it took some very low moments for him to find that initial motivation.

A habit, once formed, takes no willpower. That doesn't mean that willpower isn't important. A person with good habits but no willpower will have trouble adapting.

Right, stress is another way to say it. I read some other article in the past that had some magic solution to willpower. It was 'remove all stress from your life'. I see stress as a willpower depleter. It is easy to chose a salad for dinner after an awesome day. It is hard to not eat junk for lunch after a super stressful morning at work.

This article does nothing to demolish willpower as a concept. It's strikingly poorly argued. Yes, there are tactical transformations of concepts or situations you can make to encourage yourself to do the right thing. If you want to diet, not keeping potato chips in the house is easier than having them there and white-knuckle resisting them every moment of your life (or it is for me at least). However, both of those things take a certain level of willpower. The second one may take exponentially more, and therefore be a bad choice to make, but it takes some level of will to even avoid buying the chips.

The author tries to present it as though the mere fact that you can have cognitive strategies for improving these decisions destroys the concept of willpower. But it doesn't. Both of these things can be true. We need to get better at teaching people how to re-conceptualize things to improve their willpower, but they also need to have some in the first place! If you have no willpower, all the strategies in the world aren't going to prevent you from eating that cupcake.

I will also add that I am a former addict, and had the same experience as his patient. A big part of quitting for me was indeed a reconceptualization of the issue. But that doesn't mean it didn't also take will. If you tell people in treatment that all they need to do is reframe their addiction, you're lying to them, and they're not going to get better. Yes, reframing is important, and so is a life-architecture that avoids dangerous situations, but there are going to be moments in their lives where their drug of choice is available to them, and in those moments, there is no substitute for will.

I disagree with your assessment of the article. The Victorian definition of willpower is the same one my friends/family and I use today. Now that I have read the article I will be more mindful of how I use the term "willpower" compared to other concepts (like the cognitive strategies).

The author makes a great case for how we use the term willpower is different scenarios to mean entirely different concepts. While the marshmellow experiment willpower is similar to interpersonal bargaining willpower, the difference is important for defining scientific vocabulary. The author is not talking about colloquial use of willpower. And these two separate use cases of the term need to be rectified.

Granted, the author doesn't discuss solutions. But it seems to me a discussion of solutions would be better as another article.

> I disagree with your assessment of the article. The Victorian definition of willpower is the same one my friends/family and I use today. Now that I have read the article I will be more mindful of how I use the term "willpower" compared to other concepts (like the cognitive strategies).

Cognitive strategies are not in tension with willpower. They are complementary. You tradeoff one for the other.

> The author makes a great case for how we use the term willpower is different scenarios to mean entirely different concepts. While the marshmellow experiment willpower is similar to interpersonal bargaining willpower, the difference is important for defining scientific vocabulary. The author is not talking about colloquial use of willpower. And these two separate use cases of the term need to be rectified.

He's absolutely talking about colloquial use of the term.

> These studies also set the stage for the modern definition of willpower which is described in both the academic and popular press as the capacity for immediate self-control—the top-down squelching of momentary impulses and urges.

> The specific conception of “willpower,” however, didn’t emerge until the Victorian Era...Self-control became a Victorian obsession, promoted by publications like the immensely popular 1859 book Self-Help, which preached the values of “self-denial” and untiring perseverance. The Victorians took an idea directly from the Industrial Revolution and described willpower as a tangible force driving the engine of our self-control. The willpower-deficient were to be held in contempt. The earliest use of the word, in 1874 according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was in reference to moralistic worries about substance use: “The drunkard ... whose will-power and whose moral force have been conquered by degraded appetite.”

These are the same definition. There is no meaningful difference between them as far as I can see.

I got bored and couldn't finish the article, but I was leaning towards your opinion.

In any event, it only seems to argue against willpower versus addiction. As someone who has spent his life on-and-off exercising, I finally made a more long-lasting change and have lost 50lbs in 18mo and I'm in the best shape of my life. There's no secret, but the more time you spend thinking about it and focusing on it, and putting it in practice, the easier it gets. To me, it's mostly willpower.

To the article's credit, however, I've had much better luck exercising regularly and cutting out bad foods than I have at cutting out alcohol :)

I'm 12 down and trying for 50.

I'm 46, 6'3", 245.

Frankly it is difficult as a mfer. It feels like pure willpower as I'm not naturally athletic. Orangetheory is helping (holy crap, what a workout!), but also LoseIt (the app). Been at it since November and only have 10 lbs to show. But I will keep at it.

Interesting thing- what finally hooked me exercise-wise was the mental boost, not the physical benefits (which are also great). And the Orangetheory workout is just great- and cost-effective.

I'm going to end up being in the best shape of my life at 47. I wish I had not waited this long.

Exercise is great for many reasons, but if you want to lose 50lbs you're going to have to focus on the input side. Eating about 500kcal/day less than maintenance level will get you to your goal in about a year. Most people find that rate sustainable.

Yep, that's exactly what the LoseIt app is doing for me.

But I have to log every single thing I eat (and my personal rule is "before it enters my mouth"), and that becomes quite onerous after a few months.

I'm not sure if this helps or hurts your motivation, but meal tracking was the one thing I said I'd never do ("I'd rather die than be one of those miserable calorie-counters"), but when I started (I use MyFitnessPal, but all should be the same), it was the best thing I had ever done. Not just for results, but for the positive feedback loop. To see, in realtime, "hey, I'm on track to lose 2lbs this week" and then see it show up on the scale, just made it the one thing I ever did that worked.

Without tracking, your inputs and outputs are so disconnected. You might 'eat right and work out' out for a month, and see zero results, and give up. In fact I've done dry january maybe 3 years, and each time I said "well, I guess alcohol's not a problem, because I didn't lose a pound!" It's so easy to tell yourself these obvious lies when you're motivated to hear them, and don't see evidence to the contrary.

The other thing is, it made me realize that most of my habits were actually really good, but the few bad ones were far worse than I thought, from a consumption standpoint.

I've been tracking meals for the whole 18mo, and I barely even notice it anymore. I stopped entirely when I went on a 3 week vacation to south america, but the nice thing is, it's so easy to pick up where you left off.

Isn't "taking will" essentially about changing habits? Personally, I find that habit and habituation is all that takes to slip back into weekend binging (etc.). Once I break the habit it's pretty easy to stay out of it[0]. Unfortunately, there are various things that'll trigger the urge to return to your old habits. Intellectually it's trivial to see what must be done, but it's just that it's sooooo easy to just fall back to binge every weekend.

It's really strange to me that the article didn't mention "habit" even once[1],

[0] Obviously, this may not apply for everyone. I'm not sure that I'm 'clinically' addicted, but it sure feels like it.

[1] Well, it did but it was just in a tangential sense of "it became a habit" or similar.

I view willpower as Harry fighting off the Dementors in the Prisoner of Azkaban. He thought his dad was going to show up at any minute and fight off the Dementors (a powerful allegory for depression), but Harry realized he had to fight for himself. Once he realized that he radiated joy and fought off the horde of Dementors.

As an aside, I believe we would be prudent to not give in to substances/habits that form addictions. You could say that John/Thomas have incredibly high willpower that they are willing to keep poisoning themselves even though they consciously know the effects. The dependence on alcohol was trained, and now they have an abundance of "willpower" to continue doing just that.

"I believe we would be prudent to not give in to substances/habits that form addictions"

I take it you're referring to abstention?

That would be very hard to do given the wide variety of addictions (everything?)

Think of addiction as a symptom rather than a problem in its own right, the article briefly goes there by revealing that one of the men was stressed.

First, I apologize, I didn't word my first sentence as syntactically clear as I realized. Give in is a bit of a loose term here. Instead I would say that a person should recognize their habits changing due to the substance and they would avoid over indulging before it was too late. A period of abstinence may be necessary here to reset tolerances/ align short term and long term goals.

Second, for your last point, the man seeks a coping mechanism for his stress, but does he lack agency and therefore colloquial willpower when he decides which cooping mechanism he chooses? (That's an up in the air question for a more generalized form.)

First paragraph, agreed (excepting highly addictive drugs).

I suppose you could argue someone were searching for agency by doing a self destructive thing. I don't think willpower comes into it. Although I would agree willpower and agency are related insofar as if you don't feel you have agency, its probably hard to show much willpower.

Yes, but why didn't they choose to do something positive and stress relieving? That is where I believe agency comes in to the amassing of willpower.

But I guess this is why everyone is having a back and forth on here. It arises from ones own philosophical belief on external vs internal loci of control.

Plus peoples own life experiences, and temperaments!


My most charitable reading of it, is basically saying willpower isn't scientific enough, more precise words should be used. Combined with willpower (or lack of) has negative connotations, and so can be demotivating.

It's fairly common for people to assume that anything must be entirely one way or entirely another. Success is either entirely luck or entirely hard work. We're either products of our nature or our nurture. And so on.

What does having no willpower mean? Is it even possible?

Does having strong willpower mean that you will be able to resist every single one of your many impulses if you see them as negative? Let me reformulate that: is willpower generalizable?

Self-control is a really important skill and it seems to be somehow trained/learned/acquired. To the extent that it's analogous to willpower I don't find the author terribly persuasive.

Though I do agree it is pretty well known that ego depletion isn't replicating and that there's no magical way to strain your mind like some sort of non-fraudulent Uri Geller and achieve "willpower."

I don't think the article made its point cleanly.

Ego depletion isn't the same thing as decision fatigue, is it?

For those interested in this subject, I recommend reading Atomic Habits. A lot of what gets credited to "willpower" (whether a success or a failure) is really a function of habits. Becoming conscious of habits, and changing triggers, stacking habits, etc, are far more powerful than "willpower".

And, as the author pointed out, "willpower" is used as an excuse for injustice. That should make us uncomfortable, not more comfortable.

So what do we call it? Resolve?

It’s a very interesting article with a tantalizing suggestion that if we just redefine the problem, then we can pass the blame and find other solutions. But I don’t think I buy the logic. Take the litterbug example. The author argues that a more finessed understanding of what motivates people means we don’t have to hold people responsible for littering and can look at big soda for manufacturing litter in the first place. It’s tempting, who doesn’t hate soda these days? But if we don’t hold people responsible for their actions then who is? How do you structure ethics and laws in a socierlty built on preserving individual liberty if you delete ego?

I’m sure in psychology it’s useful to understand how priorities shift and evolve over time. I hear the point that scientific understanding is lacking. Great! But I’m not sure I’m onboard for the extent to which the author argues this should impact our society with respect to human ego. Maybe I’m just not ready to submit to the swarm...

> Ideas about willpower and self-control have deep roots in western culture, stretching back at least to early Christianity, when theologians like Augustine of Hippo used the idea of free will to explain how sin could be compatible with an omnipotent deity.

Depending on one's definitions, "willpower" and "temperance" are synonymous. While Augustine certainly wrote about self-control both in Free Will and Confessions, he was largely borrowing ideas from Cicero, who largely borrowed from Aristotle and Plato (see e.g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cardinal_virtues for a history of this). I don't understand why the author would only go as far as Augustine instead of the 800 years earlier than Plato. The distinction matters because this isn't just a thing that Christians made up to figure out how to make life compatible with a deity we happen to believe in, it's an idea that many thinkers independent of religious perspective have agreed with as an important aspect of having virtue, happiness, eudaimonia, or whatever other term one wants to use.

> The limited-resource concept likely has its roots in Judeo-Christian ideas about resisting sinful impulses

Citation needed. It seems the much more common notion in Western or Judeo-Christian tradition is that all the virtues are practiced habits, and we therefore get better at them as we do them more often. This can be seen in either the writings or living example of at least the following: Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, the St. Benedict, St. Anthony and the Desert Fathers, and Francis of Assisi, but probably in lots more.

If the author's claim (that the Judeo-Christian taught the limited-resource concept) were true, then fasting or abstinence like many of us are doing now in Lent would make no sense - fasting is an exercise in willpower. If using willpower made you more likely to not use it later, making it more likely to sin, fasting would make you more likely to sin, not less likely, which would be the opposite of what it's trying to accomplish.

If I recall correctly, I think many of them also said something about when free will is impaired, so although the author does the standard "look, these people were simple and thought X," trope, I think it's a great deal more complicated than that.

Obviously, the usual qualifications apply - one may not agree with any of the above, but it seems that one should represent it accurately.

I think that patterns of behaviour, and avoiding circumstances and triggers, and even things like cognitive behaviour therapy can have a profound effect, so maybe it's that 'willpower' is important, but it's only in a given context ...

Once I'm in the habit of going to the gym, it's a lot easier. I've allocated the time. I know the ins and outs, my gear is ready, I know what I'm going to do, it's the 'natural course of action' for the day.

It takes much less 'willpower' to rationalize doing (or not doing something) when the forces you're up against are different.

Also, I think some people have much greater perspective of consequences. Some people live in the moment, and want the rush or feeling of whatever they're about to do. Others can rationalize better how it will affect their lives down the line.

I'm just a little wary of somehow rejecting the notion that 'will', especially as it relates to choice ... doesn't even exist.

Genuinely insightful. Great article.

I wish the article mentioned more about how John and Thomas are similar. Cause topic for me felt like "men without self=control" and gender is not mentioned once, baffling. Could not continue to read.

if it works for you then keep on keepin' on

I've taken precisely one psychology class in my entire life, back in High School. But the most important lesson of Psychology was that Psychology itself is a very young field filled with dangerous pseudoscience. (The only younger field is maybe Computer Science, but even Comp. Sci has mathematical traditions that go back centuries). There's a ton of false-science which "sounds correct" but fails to yield any real results when under test.

For example, Sigmon Freud, while one of the first true scientific minds of Psychology, still created the theory of Psychosexuality. The full theories of psychosexuality is utterly insane by today's standards (Ex: Freud's theory that male children undergo an "Phallic phase" wherein they develop Oedipus Complex and sexual attraction for their mother: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oedipus_complex), but its important to study them if only to understand how easily pseudo-science develops. Also, lots of people still believe in Sigmon Freud's ramblings, even today (Ex: Freud's "Anal Retentive" and "Anal Expulsive" theories are still colloquial concepts, even as modern psychologists have dismissed the idea). So knowing the pseudo-science helps you dismiss the irrelevant stuff.

So under this context: is "Willpower" just as busted as a concept as Freud's Psychosexuality? By demonstrating "Willpower's" roots in Victorian-era literature, this article really speaks to those who have actually studied Psychology: this was a dangerous era that was filled with pseudo-science. And therefore, we must question the concept of Willpower.


With that being said: pseudo-scientific concepts may give rise to true science. The pseudo-science of Alchemy gave rise to Chemistry (Robert Boyle: an Alchemist, is credited with both Chemistry and the modern Scientific Method). But its important to recognize pseudoscience, so we can advance as a people. Alchemists were very wrong about "elements wish to return to perfection: closer to God"... but those Alchemists were the ones who first defined the elements to begin with!

And Freud's ideas of Id, Ego, and Superego ultimately gave rise to modern Psychology and experiments. Perhaps "Willpower" should be treated in the same respect. There's clearly an element of self-control that exists, but it is perhaps poorly understood by... at least... laypeople.

Once again, I'm not very studied in Psychology. But I do know enough about Skinner-boxes and the strong scientific experiments that define addiction. Getting people addicted to something is a very well understood science (precisely exploited by Slot Machines and Loot Crates in modern video games). We all want a solution to addiction, but whatever the answer... its not well understood by laypeople yet.


The article may be a bit provocative by dismissing Willpower from the get-go. But I'm in agreement with its discussion. Perhaps willpower as a concept is at least partially incompatible with reality. But how is it wrong? What concepts of Willpower are false? And is there any nugget of truth we can extract from the concept of Willpower?

My problem with the concept of willpower is twofold.

First, it has a distinctly moral component to it. The implication is that you have failed as a person if you lack willpower. We discuss willpower as if our minds are purely rational things, which they most assuredly are not.

Second, it does not recognize the asymmetry of arguing with yourself. Especially with things like diet or addiction, your mind will simply remake the playing field to suit itself, and win. There is a reason 99% of everyone who diets to lose weight has failed at the five year point. The only way to succeed is to introduce a mental disorder: OCD.

Its far simpler than that! For the proper scientist, there is only one question with regards to Willpower:

Can you design an experiment which demonstrates the concept of willpower?

There are "concepts" of Willpower that people believe: does "Willpower" run out when you keep using it? Or does "Willpower" get stronger the more you exercise it? Or is Willpower just completely wrong and completely a red herring?

That's how the field of Psychology ACTUALLY advances: with people performing experiments on hundreds of people, to determine fundamental facts of how the human brain / human behavior works. The first two questions ("exhaustion of willpower" and "willpower exercise") can potentially be experimented. I'm wondering if any studied Psychologist knows of any experiments which can answer those questions.


Without experiments, the field of Psychology death-spirals into pseudoscience. It is EXPERIMENTS that ground us back into reality (Pavalov's Dog. Skinner's box. Etc. etc.) That's my lesson from Psychology class.

Operant Conditioning exists and is 100% reproducible. Slot Machines and Loot Boxes are designed to follow Skinner's experiments on conditioning. Perhaps we can define "Scientific Willpower" as the (theorized) ability to resist conditioning, and develop experiments in that direction.

I mean, people CAN quit slot machines, and give up on video-game loot boxes eventually. Why? What causes people to leave the Skinner-box? Is it an internal-force (ie: "Willpower")? Or is it an external stimulus? Skinner's experiments only studied the addiction-part of the cycle, it seems like the "quitting" part is still an open question.

I don't think it's accurate to describe Sigmund Freud as a scientific mind in psychology. He didn't follow the scientific method.

You're right that by modern standards, the man looks like a quack. But by historical standards, he moved the field of psychology towards science. While other "psychologists" were still measuring brain dimensions (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phrenology), Freud was at least conducting interviews, studying patients, and writing up case-studies.

The actual scientists who employed the scientific method (Pavalov, Skinner, etc. etc.) would enter the field decades after Freud. For better or worse, the best psychologist in the 1890s was Freud. Since Freud has huge impact on the field of Psychology, he's important to study (especially with regards to "movie psychology": the commonly-believed false-psychology propagated by fiction).

In any case, the article draws "Willpower's" historical basis to the rough time period immediately before Freud (the 1850s). That alone is sufficient to bring suspicion to our understanding of "Willpower".


I don't think will is required for people to not be pieces of shit, that doesn't make sense. You can learn the information "keeping slaves is bad, because it hurts people" but the concept of will does not fit into that equation. Or are you just trying to say that you would have slaves if willpower didn't exist?

What part of controlling your impulses in order "to not be pieces of shit" "doesn't make sense"?

So after learning not to hurt others, do you have impulses to do so? Before you learned not to hurt others, did you act on those impulses? Do you even remember? information is constantly being checked against previous learned experiences, when your mother told you it was not okay to hit someone this became one of those experiences. it isn't some magical "willpower" or "free will"

Don't conflate willpower and free will. Willpower is the prefrontal cortex's ability to "resist current urges for future benefit". It's a tested scientific concept. Willpower is absent in people with a damaged prefrontal cortex and is weakened in sleep deprived, stressed, hungry people.

I think what you're trying to refer to is the ability of the prefrontal cortex to send inhibitory signals to the amygdala. This should not be considered "willpower" because that term implies we have control over it, as was discussed in the article. By these definitions free will and willpower are essentially the same non existent phenomena.

"This should not be considered "willpower" because that term implies we have control over it, as was discussed in the article."

I gave the accepted definition of willpower above. The author trying to redefine the term doesn't make it so.

It's like the author trying to say that endurance is the same as free will, because free will can dictate whether or not you train it.

There is the understanding that people are just the result of their genes and environment - this is common sense. Then there is trying to say that willpower doesn't exist at all - it does, and it's medically defined.

Maybe if you had some willpower yourself you may better understand what freedom really means.

I wouldn't relate willpower to subconscious decisions. To me, it's about a conscious effort to refrain from acting on impulses.

With that being said, conscious effort is not always required to get out of bed in the morning. What if you're stressed out for an exam and you just automatically get out of bed to study a few minutes more? What if you're fully rested or hungry, so that you've no internal debate about whether you should get up or not?

Whats the concept of Will Power? You as an individual giving orders to yourself to act like in a certain way. And remember your so called will power is vulnerable to your surroundings and nature. And its gonna break you at some point. Instead of "Will Power" take "responsibility" for your actions and accept you have to change for your better future.

If you're trying to get up and don't feel like it.. flex one muscle really hard like your abs.. then a few seconds later your brain will let u get up

There is no such thing as "willpower" and there is also no such thing as "motivation" (https://medium.com/swlh/theres-no-such-thing-as-motivation-e...). These are both complementary pre-scientific beliefs. Modern, well done science is pretty conclusive on these matters and it needs to be more widely known so we can progress forward as a species.

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