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Your Willpower Is Only A Finite Resource If You Believe It Is

We’ve often noted that willpower is a finite resource, but it seems that’s only the case if you believe it. Christian Jarret at productivity and ideas blog the 99u explains.

Picture: B Calkins (Shutterstock).

Veronika Job at the University of Zurich and her colleagues at Stanford University tested this by asking 60 students whether willpower is a limited resource that’s depleted by effort, or if it’s potentially unlimited and recharged by a challenge. Next, the students were given two taxing mental tasks in succession. The first was an awkward editing task, the second involved naming the actual colour of colour words while ignoring their meaning (e.g. the word “green” written in red).

For students who believed that willpower is a limited resource, giving them an extra tricky editing task left them frazzled for the color-naming challenge and their performance suffered as a result. It was a different story for the students who saw their willpower as unlimited. They performed just as well on the color-naming challenge regardless of whether the editing task was made extra difficult or not. In other words, whatever the students believed about willpower ended up coming true.

Of course, this is a small sampling and some students may have had more willpower than others. Nevertheless, a Stanford study found that it’s actually very easy to change mindsets and override what appears to be low willpower. The takeaway is pretty simple: look at tasks as bigger challenges that you want to overcome and you’ll find the willpower you need. That’s easier said than done, of course, but it sounds like it won’t take much more than regular reminders.

For much more detail on the subject, be sure to read the full post over at the 99u.

How to Power Through Any Demanding Task [The 99u]


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