Will Power*

* While supplies last.

According to this New York Times article, we each have a limited supply of will power.
The brain’s store of willpower is depleted when people control their thoughts, feelings or impulses, or when they modify their behavior in pursuit of goals. Psychologist Roy Baumeister and others have found that people who successfully accomplish one task requiring self-control are less persistent on a second, seemingly unrelated task.
So, bolstering your will power on one initiative can deplete your will power on another, however unrelated. Perhaps this, combined with certain other factors, explains why I have such a hard time quitting smoking or drinking less while continuing to work in advertising. Or why I have less patience with the demands of my workplace when it's necessary to turn attention to my mental and physical health. Over time, this reallocation of will power is supposed to help give us more will power... at least, that's what the article suggests:
The good news, however, is that practice increases willpower capacity, so that in the long run, buying less now may improve our ability to achieve future goals — like losing those 10 pounds we gained when we weren’t out shopping.
I think this is fascinating and at the same time a little concerning. Have you noticed yourself slipping in one area while concentrating on another, in terms of will power? How do you compensate for any depletion of will power you might notice in yourself?

[NYT link via Kottke]


DC Liar said...

So, The reason I did so many drugs back in the 90's is because I was a vegan?

DeLancey said...

Interesting theory. My willpower lately has been very focused on doing some freelance web work, blogging and excercising on a regular schedule. Has this effected me in other areas? It's hard to say but even though I'm working out every day I haven't cut down on the drinking as much as I would like. It's nice to know that it's not my fault anymore. Or perhaps I need to work on increasing my willpower now. But who's got time to do that?