The American Psychological Association has an interesting write-up of recent research into willpower. One definition of willpower is the delaying of short term gratification to achieve long term goals. The article includes a detailed discussion of a debate in the field of willpower research. The debate hinges on whether willpower is unlimited or depletable and both sides have evidence to support their argument. Interestingly those that argue it is depletable site research showing a reduction in Anterior Cingulate Cortex activity correlating with reduced willpower. The Anterior Cingulate Cortex is a very well connected part of the brain which has been linked to many functions (see Appendix).
Patric Hagmann et.al.Published: July 1, 2008, Hagmann P, Cammoun L, Gigandet X, Meuli R, Honey CJ, et al. (2008) Mapping the Structural Core of Human Cerebral Cortex. PLoS Biol 6(7): e159, Creative Commons Attribution Generic 2.5 License
What is particularly interesting about this article is the discussion of the evidence that suggests that willpower can be increased. Thus there is evidence that suggests that avoiding stimuli that increase the probability of short-term gratification reduces this type of behaviour. Although this might appear obvious, there is a subtle nuance in that repeated exposure to such stimuli can reduce willpower according to the depletion model. Another approach is to devise responses to these stimuli a strategy referred to as implementation intention. This is captured in the phrase ‘wanting what you want to want’ (see below). Another evidence based strategy is to use willpower routinely by engaging in activities where this is required. They give the example of regular exercise. The article also suggests tackling goals one at a time.
Wanting What You Want to Want
Jeremy McCarthy has a write-up of the research here where he uses the memorable phrase ‘Wanting What You Want to Want’.
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