Willpower is not the limited resource we once thought it was. A simple attitude-hack is all that stands between you and endless motivation.
By Christian Jarrett
IT HAS been a long day. You’ve been squinting at spreadsheets since 9 am, but your boss keeps interrupting to ask how you’re getting on and colleagues insist on offloading their own problems. By 6 pm you’re exhausted. It’s a miracle that you even make it home before hitting the wine and chocolate.
Psychologists used to have a convincing explanation for why days like these leave us weak in the face of temptation. Willpower is a limited resource that, like the cash you work so hard for, will eventually run out. Use it all up during the day and there’ll be none left by dinner time.
This much has been received wisdom in psychology circles for nearly 20 years. Recently, though, that certainty has begun to fade. According to a series of newer findings, our levels of self-control are not so much a budget we have to eke out, but a renewable resource that can be powered up as we go along. “Instead of thinking of willpower as the amount of petrol in a car… think of it as the car’s battery,” says Krishna Savani at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. “The more you drive, the more the battery gets charged, and the longer it will last.”
In this view, your powers of concentration are only limited if you think they are. It raises the intriguing possibility that, if we can get into the right mindset, superhuman powers of motivation and self-control could be ours for the taking.