Nothing really worth having comes quickly and easily. If it did, I doubt that we would ever grow.
Nothing stops the man who desires to achieve. Every obstacle is
simply a course to develop his achievement muscle. It’s a strengthening
of his powers of accomplishment.
We all have the ability to exert self-control – our ‘will power’ – to overcome our inclinations – to sleep, to eat chocolate, to watch TV, to veg out. Our self-control is vital to our success and well being. Our desires and impulses can work against our goals and our ability to uphold maturity in our relationships. Those with chronic low self-control are at risk of overeating, addictions and underachievement – as well as failed relationships.
Self-control is a valuable psychological resource with widespread effects on our lives.
What do we, as psychologists, know about self control and willpower scientifically, that we may improve it?
Self control is like a rechargeable battery - it runs out, and needs recharging
Many studies have shown that willpower and self-control is a limited resource – easily drained – like muscle power. Exercising self-control, like exercising a muscle, results in less self-control subsequently, in situations that are unrelated. Resisting the temptation to eat a chocolate bar can reduce your resistance to the temptation of watching TV rather than doing something you ought to be doing just moments later. Self-control is like battery power, and if the battery is not recharged – e.g. after a few hours rest or a good night’s sleep – there’s only so much self-control we exert until we’re drained. This has been called ego depletion.
Self-control and working memory depend on each other
How can we increase our store of will-power? How can we improve our self-control, and be less likely to give up and veg out?
Researchers have shown experimentally that self-control relies on working memory capacity, and that ego depletion is actually due to working memory depletion. For the evidence, downloaded here.
Working memory is those mechanisms and processes that are involved in the control, regulation, and active maintenance of task-relevant information in the service of complex cognition, including novel as well as familiar skilled tasks.
..Miyake and Shah
Working memory capacity is how much – the bandwidth – of the task-relevant information you can hold in mind to attain your goals – whether to solve a problem, learn a new skill, keep level headed in a dispute, read an article or complete a project.
Dewitte and colleagues showed that
- working memory use causes self-control deficits and vice versa
This shows that:
- self-control and working memory tap the same resource pool
The relevance of working memory to willpower and self-control lies in the ‘active maintenance of task-relevant information’ in the definition above. ‘Task relevant information’ implies a goal, and sticking to goals lies behind the self-control effort. Sticking to goals, when there are distractions and automatic responses that need to be suppressed, is HARD – it takes will power. It is tiring, and can drain the tank.
Train working memory > Improve will power and self-control
By implication, if we strengthen our working memory, increasing its capacity and efficiency, we can increase our will-power, adding a measure to the common cognitive resource they share.
High IQ Pro’s dual n-back working memory exercise (shown above) improves working memory capacity or ‘bandwidth’ substantially – by 60% or more in laboratory tests.
This will translate into greater reserves for self-control, and more capacity to ‘dig deep’ in pursuit of your goals.
For more great willpower quotes click here.