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Most of us have a finite supply of willpower (futurepundit.com)
49 points by cwan 2945 days ago | hide | past | web | 22 comments | favorite



Link to the full article bypassing blog spam.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-09/mu-rda092409....

The blog leaves out the bottom part where it mentions:

"Willpower is like a muscle: it needs to be challenged to build itself," she says.


Studies have shown that willpower is linked to blood glucose levels, i.e. that sugar is the fuel for willpower:

http://psr.sagepub.com/cgi/content/short/11/4/303

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/12/06/how-to-boost-your-w...


"Study subjects who drank sugar-sweetened lemonade, which raises glucose levels quickly, performed better on self-control tests"

Great. The diet for willpower (grazing) makes me fat.


Not really. Eat honey.


The study escapes me at the moment (it might be from a Dan Gilbert TED talk), but people who've just spent time on a difficult puzzle/task are also shown to have less willpower. It's not so much that we have a finite amount of willpower that we have a finite amount of cognitive resources that we can devote to various tasks, willpower being one of them.


Roy Baumeister has done a lot of the early work on ego depletion. Wikipedia has a good background of reading material:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ego_depletion


After we used this cognitive task to deplete participants' self-regulatory capacity, they didn't exercise as hard as participants who had not performed the task.

This is science?

They used a subjective test of questionable applicability as a measure of a subjective metric of questionable importance to determine that a test group didn't perform as well (whatever that means) as a control group.

The only willpower needed here was to make it to the end of this pseudo-scientific article. Now that I have, I probably won't be able to complete any work for the rest of the day :-)


The Stroop test is a fairly standard and well-respected test. To claim otherwise takes a post with a lot more substance than the one you have offered.

Care to explain why the test or metric is subjective or questionable, or why you are qualified to declare such?

Until then, refrain with your indignant declamations.


Care to explain why the test or metric is subjective or questionable

OK, let's start with the fact that OP never defines "willpower", whatever that is and for which each of us probably has a different definition. This alone places all further study on a solid foundation of quicksand. Then, OP never explains the applicability or purpose or reciting color words in different colors.

why you are qualified

You mean any more than an "associate professor of kinesiology". I hold my years of experience completing projects in the trenches against her psych lab any day.

refrain with your indignant declamations

Not "indignant declamations" (whatever that means), just my opinion. Are you suggesting that people with opinions should refrain from expressing them in a discussion forum?

Honestly, if this was a wiki, this study would fail horribly in the "citing needed" test. And if it was in physics, biology, or any hard science, it would be laughed off the board. Are you suggesting that since it's psychology related, it deserves a free pass?

It took a lot of willpower to refrain from responding to your reply, but I had none left. Oooh, maybe OP is onto something after all.


"Cognitive tasks, as well as emotional tasks such as regulating your emotions, can deplete your self-regulatory capacity to exercise,"

A distinction made more clear by the non-blogspam linked in the comments here, but perfectly evident in the words of the lead author.

I hold my years of experience completing projects in the trenches against her psych lab any day.

"This is science?"

just my opinion

If your opinion is that science isn't science until it satisfies your intuition, it's not wanted.

It's obvious to anyone with two brain cells to rub together that the blogspam of a press release isn't going to have the citations of a study. I don't suggest psychology gets away without citations, but a cursory knowledge of the field would let you know the Stroop test is science, and that an examination of the actual study, should you care to put any effort into something other than your denigrations, would inform you that your flippancy is unfounded.


OK, let's start with the fact that OP never defines "willpower", whatever that is and for which each of us probably has a different definition.

The researcher in question studies kinesiology, in other words, exercise and physical health. It's pretty clear that in this context, "willpower" meant "ability to follow through on an exercise regimen".

Then, OP never explains the applicability or purpose or reciting color words in different colors.

It's called the Stroop Task, as was already pointed out, and has been well known for decades as an incredibly useful tool in psychological research. It's mentally taxing and fairly resistant to performance improvement from practice or preparation. This is basic knowledge in the field.

The Stroop Task is usually employed to measure impairment of higher cognitive functions, but in this case is being used to deliberately overtax those cognitive functions (which presumably include willpower).

You mean any more than an "associate professor of kinesiology". I hold my years of experience completing projects in the trenches against her psych lab any day.

Yes, more qualified than a scientist with years of training and multiple publications in a specialized field that you have demonstrated absolutely no knowledge of. Your years of experience "in the trenches" are completely irrelevant.

I am endeavoring to be polite here, but I'm frankly baffled by the sheer arrogance on display.

Not "indignant declamations" (whatever that means),

It means exactly what it says, despite your snide commentary.

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/indignant http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/declamation

just my opinion. Are you suggesting that people with opinions should refrain from expressing them in a discussion forum?

The suggestion is perhaps that people with uninformed opinions should refrain from expressing them with smug self-satisfaction or, failing that, at least have the courtesy to do so on a site such as Digg where that behavior is the convention.


I also believe in an amendment to this hypothesis. Some actions that require will-power unlocks more will-power so you might gain will-power after the action.

For instance, going for a run boosts energy and will-power that allows you to work harder in the office.


As a sometimes follower of GTD, I also find dumping my to do's from my mind onto paper is remarkably energizing/motivating.


If you've really been working on a startup in your free time from your regular job then you'll be painfully aware that this is true.

Every friday, I try to plan a well balanced weekend so that my willpower to work on my startup is kept topped up after my regular job workweek. I do this by:

1. Planning for one activity during the weekend which I absolutely love to do: kiteboarding or watching football. Its usually good to have this on sunday so that you look forward to it during friday night and saturday. (Yes I've stopped going out on friday night.)

2. Recapping who my most likely paying customers are going to be. And writing out a list of bugs and features that I will work on to be able to acoomodate those users.

3. A list of UI (simple) and fun features which I can do when I start to get tired working.

The system seems to work but is not procrastination-proof. I think I still need to add:

1. A well stocked fridge.

2. A little more face time with my friends. (This is a great willpower rejuvenator.)

3. More time in the gym. Right now this is at 0.


I often think of my willpower like mana/eve/whatever in a video game. It's dreadful to watch it deplete so quickly at the 9-5.


Use your gold to buy some potion then.


The will to complete a task is a state of mind. Talking about a "finite supply of willpower" implicitly treats willpower as a substance, rather than a computational state. It's like claiming that a computer has a "finite capacity to run emacs," and you're using this precious capacity up by playing video games.


See Perceval's comment above that links to studies showing that glucose levels influence willpower. In other words, it is basically a physical substance on some level.


I wrote a blog post http://williambswift.blogspot.com/2009/08/akrasia-as-reveale... , partially in response to a Less Wrong thread, where I wrote "Complaining about akrasia, the lack of will-power, to get done what you want to do, may show that your real preferences are not those you are claiming." So maybe what the research shows is that the participants have a limited amount of BS they are willing to put up with; they just want it to get over with rather than focusing on the rest of the study.


The thing about these studies is that while you can discover that one thing that is commonly thought-of as requiring willpower might indeed interfere with another such thing, the question of what that whole class of activities is has not been answered and indeed varies from person to person.

For one man, for example, approaching an attractive woman might require willpower while for another, it might just be a habitual response.

On the other hand, it's likely solving a difficult puzzle would requires resources on anyone's part.

This is a crucial concept and I hope that question of definition is worked on...


And so why does this deserve a downmod?


Don't ALL of us have a finite supply?




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