Saturday, 29 March 2008

The effort of will...it depends on purpose

The brilliant Oliver Burkeman points out the effort of willpower is one that faces us every day, across lots of different situations. Worryingly, it is a finite resource which we can waste on resisting a donut, whilst we fail to veto another slice of jam on toast.

He mentions Baumeister's experiments that showed that exerting self-control uses up real energy. So no wonder we break diets or need food to keep us at our desks.

For once, I think this tells only part of the story.

Willpower is finite depending on how you picture it. If resisting the donut is just one part of a larger, unifying purpose, my bet is that it is much easier to picture oneself also resisting the toast. And if your image includes a new, harder, sportier you, you'll probably then take yourself off for a run and make do with a banana. Purpose unifies goals, so that the drain on resources is lessened. If you can find ways of rewarding yourself in the meantime - this is still important - then your purpose will protect you from being drained.

I will be testing a very similar proposition in my upcoming dissertation which I think is very exciting. More on this later - I'm off for some jam on toast.

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