Willpower, part 9: an image of how to use willpower

February 6, 2012 by Joshua
in Awareness, Blog, Fitness

[This post is part of a series on willpower and how to understand and use it. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Yesterday’s post showed some delightful images of children and marshmallows from a video of the marshmallow experiment. If you want to see cute images and hear cute music, the video is great.

If you want to improve your willpower, the video doesn’t help much. It shows people struggling to use willpower, so you can empathize with them, all the more since children haven’t learned to hide their struggles as well, and they’re on hidden camera. If that helps you, great.

A major lesson the author of the experiment described was that a successful strategy to avoid eating the marshmallow was not to look at it and to find ways of thinking of other things. My advice is similar. The video shows kids looking at and fixating on the marshmallow — exactly what not to do. The video looks cute, but shows how to give in to temptation.

The best way to use willpower is to remove the need for willpower. The picture below shows how to use willpower. Think of this question while looking at it:

One person is leaving the room with the marshmallow to do other things. The other is staying in the room, sitting on a chair facing the marshmallow, mere inches from their face. Which one do you think will more easily not eat it?

If you want to avoid temptation, use willpower effectively. Don’t fixate on what you want to avoid, using as much willpower as possible. Use a little willpower at first to remove the need for it later. Walking out of the room and doing other things (in this case literally, but figuratively for other situations) works best.

If you want to struggle, use nothing but brute-force willpower, but prepare yourself for failure.

If you want results, use a little willpower at first so you don’t have to later.

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