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The Myth of Willpower

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Old 10-22-2007, 11:18 AM   #1
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Default The Myth of Willpower

Found an interesting article that pokes some holes into the theories behind willpower... Take of it what you will.. I just found it so I haven't completely digested its implications..

I'd be interested in reading your thoughts...

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Old 10-22-2007, 03:47 PM   #2
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In psychology classes, this would also often come up, and several professors did refer to it as the myth of will power. Cognitive psych classes argued much as this article does. Behavioral psych classes talked of behavioral change, not being a matter of will power, but of shifting the balance of rewards. When you engage in a behavior that you do not "want" to, it's because the rewards for doing so are greater than the rewards for not doing so. In order to change behavior, you have to stop rewarding it, and instead reward or increase the rewards for the new incompatible behavior.

One of the focuses was on the difference between long and short term rewards. In general, short term rewards tend to be much more powerful than long term rewards.

If you rely too much on "willpower," you sometimes set yourself up for failure. It's easier to keep temptation foods out of the house, than to resist them once they're there. Changing your environment to make the desired behaviors easier and more rewarding tends to be more effective than trying to overcome obstacles by force of will.
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Old 10-23-2007, 02:42 PM   #3
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LOL - I thought Colleen's response was quite detailed and a little deep for me...then I opened the link and ... well ... a bit too much for me to absorb at the moment! I need the cliff notes version.

Dr. Phil McGraw talks about willpower in one of his books and says Willpower is an outright myth; it is unreliable emotional fuel that drives you when you are excited, motivated or energized. It temporarily pumps you up, but you cannot count on it for success. In short, don't beat yourself up if you lack constant willpower - most of us don't have it 24 x 7.
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Old 10-23-2007, 03:43 PM   #4
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Long term, short term depends on the person I think. Heck I saved one time for 6 years to get a new bedroom set. I didn't give my self rewards for waiting. I waited until I could aford it. I guess the reward was I didn't own anyone a payment. Talk about long term willpower I think a better word is determination. While it is easier to keep things out of the house that isn't always possible when you live with other people.
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Old 10-24-2007, 02:28 PM   #5
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A lot of the research on long term vs short term rewards is very interesting. In one classic study children were given the choice between one piece of candy now, or several pieces of candy later. The children who could wait, used strategies to avoid temptation. Some closed their eyes, so they couldn't see the instantly available candy. Some talked to themselves, giving themselves a pep talk for waiting. Some tried to distract themselves with other activities.... The kids who just stared at the candy "waiting" were the least likely to be successful.

Interestingly, the same seems to be true for adults. Adults who are most successful with long term rewards (saving for big purchases, saving and investing for retirement, dieting and exercise...) also tend to employ strategies that make the long term reward more attractive. In other words, they find some way to reward themselves for waiting.

"Will power," is generally thought of as "tooth and nail" determination, more like the children staring at that candy "willing" themselves to wait. The research suggests that it isn't the willpower or determination that is the key to success, but the strategies one uses to be successful. Some of those strategies for weight loss might be keeping temptations out of the house, or out of sight, or leaving the room when someone else in the house is eating high calorie treats. Keeping hands busy with a craft project while watching tv, finding low calorie treats to replace old favorites... It isn't really will power or determination that is ultimately the best tool, but all the little tools and habits we aquire to allow us to succeed even when motivation lags.

Often our goals involve "not doing" something. "Not eating between meals, not eating high calorie or junk foods, not smoking, not gambling...."

"Not doing" goals are very difficult to accomplish if "do instead" goals are not made.
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Old 10-24-2007, 10:42 PM   #6
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Very informative and well said, Colleen. I love it!!!

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Old 10-25-2007, 03:46 PM   #7
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I don't know if will power is a myth, but I do know hunger beats it out everytime for me!
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