This week my guest is leading social psychologist and scientist Roy F. Baumeister. His latest research reveals that the average person spends four hours of their day battling temptation. It’s no wonder most of us claim our greatest weakness is lack of willpower. But Baumeister argues this doesn’t have to be the case. In “WILLPOWER: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength,” he collaborates with renowned New York Times science writer John Tierney to revolutionize our understanding of self-control.
Various studies have showed a link between self-control and success across a variety of personal realms. Over years of research, Baumeister found that willpower works like a muscle that can be strengthened with practice, and fatigued with overuse. His lab work also ties willpower to glucose, the basic biological fuel for brain and body, and shows that self-control can be strengthened simply by replenishing the body’s store of fuel. That’s why eating and sleeping — or lack thereof — have such dramatic effects on self-control. It’s also why prison researchers have been able to accurately predict, based solely on how prisoners’ bodies process glucose, which prisoners will commit more violent crimes after their release.
Decision making is similarly reliant on glucose, with choice and will often directly competing for resources. For instance, life-changing decisions can go in different directions depending on whether they’re made before or after lunch. As Baumeister and Tierney show, exhausting and starving your willpower doesn’t just produce one symptom: it intensifies all manner of feelings and impulses. The glucose connection creates a particularly unfortunate Catch-22 for dieters: in order not to eat, a dieter needs willpower; but in order to have willpower, a dieter needs to eat.
The good news is that while self-control is biologically rooted, we have the capacity to manipulate our nature. WILLPOWER features personal stories from entrepreneurs, executives, artists and parents who have managed to do just that. People like David Blaine, Eric Clapton, Mary Karr, and Oprah Winfrey offer life-changing lessons in the exercise of self-control. Their experiences show that we can not only build willpower, but also conserve it for crucial moments by setting the right goals and using the best techniques for monitoring our progress. Once we establish the correct habits, willpower gets easier.
Combining the best of modern social science with practical wisdom, Baumeister and Tierney deliver the definitive compendium of modern lessons in willpower, and explain how however we define happiness—a close-knit family, a satisfying career, financial security—we won’t reach it without mastering self-control.
So tune in this Wednesday at 1pmPT and find out how to strengthen your willpower! (Note: This show is a rerun, but it’s one of our faves. If you haven’t heard it in awhile or missed it the first time be sure to tune in.)