Like a skill, will power can be learned. But, it is more like a muscle. It must be exercised in order to stay strong and it can get fatigued.
Ever notice that when you have had a stressful day at work, it is likely that you will lose your temper on the drive home or at the kids over dinner. Your will power muscle is strained. You have spent all of your will power at work and have none left for the rest of the day.
Ever notice that when you are tired, hungry, worried, or lonely, that everything is more difficult. Trying to do homework when you feel this way takes twice as long (if you can focus on it at all.)
They did an experiment where people had to trace a geometric pattern without lifting their pencil. It looked simple but was frustrating to no end because there was no possible solution. Maybe it was something like this:
This was an intense test of their will power. How long could they keep trying to solve the puzzle before giving up?
But, to set up the experiment they had to have some people who had used up some of their will power before the test began and some, as a control group, who had not.
The set up: 67 college students were tested one by one. They were asked to skip the meal before coming to the experiment which they were deceptively told was to test their taste perceptions.
Every student entered the room to the aroma of freshly baked cookies. Before them on the table was a bowl of chocolate chip cookies and a bowl of radishes. Half of the students were asked to ignore the radishes and only eat the cookies. This, as you can imagine, took little or no will power.
The other half, however had to exert enormous self-control as they ignored the chocolate chip cookies and only ate the radishes.
After five minutes, the food was removed and they were told that they had to wait fifteen minutes before their palates would be cleansed enough to continue the experiment. “While you are waiting, please work on this little puzzle,” insinuating that the puzzle should be relatively easy. They were handed the impossible puzzle.
Those who had enjoyed the cookies, looked relaxed and peaceful. They spent an average of 27 minutes working on the puzzle before they rang the bell signaling that they had given up.
Those who had used their will power to resist eating the cookies, looked miserable, grumbling and complaining from the very beginning. They worked on the puzzle for an average of only 8 minutes before giving up!
Will power is a muscle. When you use it up it gets tired and you will give up sooner.
But, since will power is a muscle, you can flex it and exercise it and it will get stronger.
Well, I can’t guarantee that we’ll all become monks, ninjas or Jedi masters, but we can all strengthen our will power muscles.
If you use your will power to exercise every day, you will have greater will power when it comes to smoking less, drinking less, doing homework more, and eating better.
If you set budget goals with your money, making detailed logs of every penny spent, using greater will power over your finances, you will have greater will power to exercise more, smoke less, drink less, and watch less TV.
Good habits spill over into other areas of your life. Flex your will power muscle in one area and every area of your life will benefit.
It's a little strange to think about. Force yourself to practice an instrument for an hour every day, and you may lose weight and get out of debt.
So, begin. Where you begin is less important than just making sure that you do.
(Check out The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg for more info about these experiments and in general about how to make lasting change.)
Here is the next blog in the series: http://stillwatersthewatermark.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-importance-of-friendships-more-how.html