In the early 1970s, Walter Mischel, a psychologist specializing in personality theory and social psychology, conducted series of studies on delayed gratification (the ability to resist the temptation for an immediate reward and wait for a later reward) called as the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment.
The experiment was conducted on a number of children who were brought into a room and were given marshmallows to each of them. The children were told that if they waited for 15 minutes, during which the observer left the room and then returned, they would be rewarded with twice the amount of marshmallows they currently had. All they had to do was to resist themselves from having the marshmallows for a better reward.
30 percent of the children in the room couldn’t resist from eating the marshmallow in under 2 minutes, 40 percent of them waited for 10 mins, but couldn’t resist anymore, and the rest waited for the whole 15 minutes in order to earn better rewards.
In follow-up studies, researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the better rewards tend to have had better life outcomes such as, educational attainment, body mass index (BMI), and other life measures.
That’s not the primary point why I started off this article with an explanation of this experiment. Although it’s a whole different topic that we can discuss about, the main intention was to highlight the “willpower” that each kid exhibited, which seems to be a positive trait that is gradually diminishing in today’s life.
Clearly, 30 percent of the children had absolutely no control over themselves. The 40 percent of the lot exhibited their willpower to sustain their desires, but it was completely depleted in no time. The remaining 20 percent of the children were determined and with complete self-control, they were able to achieve and succeed in their goals.
Make Willpower Your Strength
Willpower is much like a muscle to your brain that gives mental strength to achieve/change something. It plays a very important role while you’re forming or breaking certain habits.
Willpower, which sounds so powerful enough, however, isn’t infinite. It is finite and can be easily depleted. In comparison, it is pretty much like your smartphone’s battery. It runs out quickly and easily as you keep using it often.
This phenomenon is referred to in psychology as ego depletion.
No wonder, after a hard day’s work, all you want to do is languor around and binge-eat all the time. Or, perhaps the best example would be that if you’re on a diet, you end up convincing yourself that ‘eating cheese sandwich today isn’t such a big deal’. But there’s some good news! Willpower is something that can be muscled up, just like how one hits the gym to build up body strength. You can build up your self-discipline and self-control (willpower) by setting and successfully completing a series of challenges on a consistent basis over a period of time. (For your info, it take 66 days to form habit if the task is done consistently)
Over a period of time, if you’re consistent enough, you will develop a higher threshold for ego depletion; your willpower strength gets bigger and stronger.
Willpower is not an actual power. It is something that you will need to develop over time.
It’s also why some people are able to focus and work 8 to 12 hours a day, while others simply struggle to even get themselves a cup of coffee. They’re not super-humans or genetically enhanced people. They’re just normal people who have built up their ability to take themselves to that level. They have mastered their willpower to such an extent that even working 8 to 12-hours day of productivity simply becomes the new normal.
The same goes with forming or breaking habits. You will require building up extreme amounts of willpower before you commit yourself into doing something that will affect and bring about a change in your lifestyle.
Let’s consider an example where you decide to go on a diet and plan to lose about 10 kgs in two months. Generally in most cases, the plan behind losing weight is, “I will turn down desserts, skip breakfast, and walk three times a week for 30 minutes“.
Definitely, the chances of failing at this goal are more than 95 percent. Ego depletion catches up and takes over. You tend to lose all the willpower eventually. Like I said earlier, you will convince yourself into eating cheese sandwich, or do something that will affect in completion of your goal.
Willpower is one thing. Focus is another.
When it comes to making a change in your lifestyle, focus only on changing one aspect of it at a time. In the above instance, if you’re planning to lose weight, then focus only on skipping breakfast, or turn down desserts, or walk three times a week for 30 minutes. Doing it all at the same time, will not help you in anyway. Research has proven a multiple number times that people who set multiple goals at the same time end up accomplishing none of them. They stress themselves out while achieving all the goals and the outcome is a big failure.
What really works is – focus only on one goal at a time; build it over a long period of time so that it becomes a part of your daily routine or a habit. You can then think of moving on to a different change in lifestyle if needed.
Willpower + Focus = Better Lifestyle
Don’t let the little child in you control your cravings. Let go of bad habits; replace them with better ones to lead a healthier lifestyle. End of the day, it all depends on your willpower, interest and focus if you want to bring in a change for good.
To end this on a lighter note, here’s why a T-Rex hates to do push-ups –