1. Holding your attention fixed on an action eventually causes you to do that action. E.g. try relaxing and imagining all the little motions and then the final state of making a fist. Your hand will, after a few seconds, move of its own accord and make a fist.
2. The second part of willpower is to tolerate distractions and difficulties. James's phrase is "I will have it even so". E.g.:
"Do the dishes"
"But the water is cold"
"I will have it even so"
"But there are so many"
"But there's an interesting article on HN"
Your mileage may vary (I'd certainly be interested in hearing back), but personally I've been using this technique to do a number of unappealing but necessary tasks without too much of a feeling of effort.
Regarding the article, I would propose that there are two kinds of willpower. One is "tyrannical", where you simply force yourself to do something; this feels like it requires effort, and is depletable. The other is more "persuasive", using techniques similar to the one described above; it requires more preliminary thought, but reduces or eliminates the feeling of effort and is thus not depletable.
I initially put it down to it being used when people are sleep-deprived (as I find willpower is easier when sleep-deprived) but it's even more effective when rested.
(If it's the first case you might start from it's mechanism of action and figure out YOUR cause for "willpower barriers" and maybe find a better solution for them...)
Here it is on Amazon for $0.99: http://www.amazon.com/William-James-Psychology/dp/B000W2GH4E
Here's an online version: http://archive.org/details/psychologybriefe00willuoft
1. "make yourself do something" type of willpower - and this type is depleteable, finite because every time you use it you accumulate some kind of latent stress, frustration
2. "make/think yourself you WANT TO DO something", and then obviously do it because you want to - this type is not depleateable and the more you believe in it the more you have it (I think religious or mystical people tend to have more of this - maybe this partly explains the amazing feats of some monks and things like these...)
I believe more and more that "willpower" is an umbrella term that covers very distinct concepts that we have not yet separated and that these (the ones concluding for either "finite" or "infinite" willpower) studies will be later looked upon as either wrong (some) or "unfalsifiable" (unable to prove they are false) because they are too ambiguous, same as it happened to freudian psychology and then it really went out of fashion never to came back in full strength again...
The base of the ideas are Muraven's idea of "willpower as a muscle" and "not as a skill" (google for his articles starting from '98 http://scholar.google.ro/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0,5&q=... ), but I think (more like "my intuition says") he only got half of the problem right: there's a "muscle" type of willpower (the "make yourself do smth" willpower) and a "skill" type of willpower (the "make yourself want to do something" type) and maybe his experiments just created the conditions that favored people exerting the first type (I'll really have to reread his articles to arrive at a "based" conclusion about this... like in... read more than the abstracts and conclusions for some, shame on me :| ).
And the other source of the intuition is my recent very unstructured approach to try and understand some aspects of buddhist philosophy and meditation...
(But again, I'm not in the field of sociology and the only contact with academic research I had is a past "involvement" with clinical medical research (surgery and oncology...) and some aspects of biomedical statistics, so this really is not my field...)
Much recent research suggests that willpower—the capacity to exert self-control—is a limited resource that is depleted after
exertion. We propose that whether depletion takes place or not depends on a person’s belief about whether willpower is
a limited resource.
I think this lines up with Marissa Meyer's thoughts on why burnout isn't "real", i.e. that burnout, in the pervasive "abandon all hope ye who enter" form, is not over-exertion but under-motivation. This matches my own experience where I feel energised by working hard on things I care about, and worn out by working even trivially on things I don't.
Also, watch this video.
And here's the book:
Our brains are using about 1/5 of the calories we eat, ~400 calories per day for most of us. Most people are probably unaware of how their sugar-to-blood ratio naturally varies during the day, in response to eating, exercise, sleep patterns, etc -- but most of us have experienced feeling cranky and tired, having a meal, and feeling much more decisive and energized. This is a good example of how a meal raises one's blood sugar levels.
"What about the glucose idea, which seems supported by so much science? Dr. Baumeister and Mr. Tierney describe studies showing that giving people glucose (in the form of a sugar drink) restores their willpower. But in our latest research we found that when people believe in willpower they don’t need sugar — they perform well whether they consume sugar or not. Sugar helps people only when they think that willpower is sharply limited. It’s not sugar we need; it’s a change in mind-set."