Willpower is not usually addressed that much when it comes to learning. It is just kind of assumed you are interested and that you are going to still be interested in learning something. You might not want to even think of it as that much of a factor in your studies, but it’s there lurking beneath the surface.
Psychologists will define willpower as the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals. This is obviously a lot more difficult now in our rather over-stimulating world than it was when the only thing stimulating in life was, say, when the ice cream truck came driving down your street.
Today, we have advertising literally everywhere. They are even trying to put it in your house. On top of that, brain science has become so advanced that some game designers have stopped creating games with stories or good graphics, but instead prey on our instincts (Farmville anyone?)
And the benefits of having strong willpower are quite numerous. Those with high self-control have been shown to score better on tests as well as be in greater physical and mental condition. Meaning more willpower equals a better chance at success.
But how does one exercise willpower? How do you strengthen it if you are a little weak? How do you conserve the willpower that you have?
Is there a Limited Supply?
Every time you resist a short-term temptation, you use up a little bit of willpower. Did you say no to those delicious cookies? It’ll cost you a few willpower points. Go for a jog outside even though it is pouring down rain? That’ll cost you a few points. Resist strangling that dude on the cellphone in the train? That’ll cost a few points too.
This is, at least, the current working theory of willpower. That’s why, it is easier to keep to a routine if you do it in the morning and not at night. Your ‘willpower reserves’ are at their freshest in the morning.
But amazingly willpower is not tied to being well-rested either. According to at least one experiment, the effect of more sleep did not give people better willpower. But those that had to make use of their willpower, had a greater difficulty making decisions later.
The real quirk to all this research is that if you believe that your willpower is limitless you will have more willpower. But if you believe it has a limit, you will have less. In other words, maybe should forget everything I just told you, Oops.
You can Increase the Supply
There might be a limited supply, but don’t let that worry you because you can exercise your willpower. It seems like if you try to push yourself a little more, over time, your willpower will become stronger, which is obviously very beneficial.
This seems true at least in my own experience. I keep testing my willpower on different things here and there over time and it has helped me to get a lot more done. There have also been days when I’ve said screw it, I’m eating cookies and pizza all day, and that has helped me focus later (because I didn’t have to use up so much willpower resisting cookies and pizza).
Another little insight that has come from this research is that proper nutrition is important, too. If you have a low sugar level your willpower will be low too. That’s why eating right (and often) will help you keep your willpower up. This is something that I sometimes get laughed at for for including in the 5 Biggest Mistakes guide (that you can get by signing up for the mailing list in the upper right corner), but eating right can sometimes mean all the difference during the test.
How do you Keep your Willpower in Check?
What do you to stay strong and keep studying? What short-term temptations do you struggle with on a regular basis? Let me know in the comments.
Photo by Les Chatfield