(Editor’s note: Daniel Goleman is now conducting a series of audio interviews including a great one with Richard Davidson on Training the Brain. We are honored to bring you this guest post by Daniel Goleman, thanks to our collaboration with Greater Good Magazine.)
Yes, You Can:
New research suggests we can build our willpower
— By Daniel Goleman
Those of us who struggle to resist junk foods or otherwise suffer a lack of willpower will be heartened by some good news from neuroscience. But there’s some bad news, too.
First, the bad news. A slew of studies suggest that we each have a fixed neural reservoir of willpower, and that if we use it on one thing, we have less for others. Tasks that demand some self-control make it harder for us to do the next thing that takes willpower.
In a typical experiment on this effect, one group of people was made to watch a video of a boring scene; another was not. Then both groups had to circle every “e” in a long passage of writing. The result? The people who had to first sit through the boring video gave up faster. The same loss of persistence has been found when people try to resist tempting foods, suppress emotional reactions, or even make the effort to try to impress someone.
This all suggests we have a fixed willpower budget, one we should be careful in spending. Some neuroscientists suspect that self-control consumes blood sugar, which takes a while to build up again; thus, the depletion effect.
But the good news is that we can grow our willpower; like a muscle, the more we use it, the more it gradually increases over time. But doing this takes, of all things, willpower.
As the muscle of will grows, the larger our reservoir of self-discipline becomes. So people who are able to Read the rest of this entry »