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Willpower


Holmbo
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I listen occasionally to a podcast called The science of success and they had this really interesting episode about willpower. I found myself wanting to really sum it up so I'll post it here as a tiny self-help/lifehack themed post :D

The episode has an interview with a Dr David Desteno who's researched willpower.
The way we usually think about willpower is that it's about suppressing wants an emotions. We really want to eat an ice-cream but we force ourself not to, or we really don't want to clean the house but we make ourself do it. According to Desteno this strategy can be effective, but it puts a stress on us, it takes energy to fight against our emotions. We're less likely to succeed if we're already stressed, or tired. A better way to succeed is to strengthen emotions that does make us want to do the right things.

 

When one look at problems of willpower it's about the battle of short term vs long term gain. It's about being able to delay a reward for a bigger one long term, or do something unpleasant now in order to gain from it later. According to Desteno, when you look at it from a evolutionary perspective most of the delaying of gratification would be in context of human relationships. When you live in a small tribe who's survival depends on cooperation, those who cannot put the good of the group above their own needs at times is not welcome. Those who do not help someone else does not get help when they need it. So humans evolved emotions that made us want to do act in a way that benefits us long term, such as compassion, gratefulness or pride. The episode goes into studies that show people who spent time cultivating those emotions are more likely to choose long term gain over short term. Not because they force themselves to do it,  but rather because their emotions drives them to it.

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4 hours ago, Holmbo said:

The episode goes into studies that show people who spent time cultivating those emotions are more likely to choose long term gain over short term

What sorts of things did they do to cultivate those emotions?

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9 minutes ago, NullVector said:

What sorts of things did they do to cultivate those emotions?

In one study they had participants do meditation exercises for a few weeks, while a control group did some other exercise. In another they had people reflect over a moment they felt grateful. 

 

So it's not any revolutionary exercises. In the episode they talked about daily meditation or trying to think of something you're grateful for everyday. To take pride in small accomplishments. In general being aware of when we feel positive feelings and trying to express them to others. 

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It could also be that good thoughts and less stress in general makes us more motivated to do things for the long gain. But I think still it's interesting insights. I've personally always thought of willpower as battle between intellect and emotions.  So to view it as battle between different emotions feels quite revolutionary for me.

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  • 2 months later...

I read about a (famous) study where they put a marshmallow and a toddler in one room. If they had the willpower to not eat the marshmallow for some time (I don't know the exact time anymore) 15 minutes, thanks @NullVector, they would get another marshmallow. The toddlers which could wait were way more successful in live than the others.

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On 8/30/2018 at 3:58 PM, Tagor said:

I read about a (famous) study where they put a marshmallow and a toddler in one room. If they had the willpower to not eat the marshmallow for some time (I don't know the exact time anymore) 15 minutes, thanks @NullVector, they would get another marshmallow. The toddlers which could wait were way more successful in live than the others.


I've read about this too. The theory is that this test implicates willpower and that kids who can wait will be more successful in life. This in turn lead to the thought that schools or parents should use the marshmallow test to teach their kids willpower. There's some debate about the validity of this though. In 2018 there was a study of a large record of kids who'd been followed from childhood to adulthood. They had all this data on the kids upbringing, including results from a marshmallow test. When they analyzed it they saw very little association between the test and the success in their teens. Sure kids who could wait longer for the marshmallow in general did better, but it was all tied in to socioeconomic factors. Kids who lived in families who were worse of socioeconomically did on average worse on the test and worse later in life.

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On 6/23/2018 at 10:37 AM, Holmbo said:

The way we usually think about willpower is that it's about suppressing wants an emotions. We really want to eat an ice-cream but we force ourself not to, or we really don't want to clean the house but we make ourself do it. According to Desteno this strategy can be effective, but it puts a stress on us, it takes energy to fight against our emotions. We're less likely to succeed if we're already stressed, or tired. A better way to succeed is to strengthen emotions that does make us want to do the right things.

But what about values? Where do they come in? Mr Spock lacks emotions1, but he certainly doesn't lack values…

 

1 yeah, ok strictly speaking not true

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On 9/9/2018 at 8:19 PM, DeltaV said:

But what about values? Where do they come in? Mr Spock lacks emotions1, but he certainly doesn't lack values…

 

1 yeah, ok strictly speaking not true

Our values inform our wants, do they not? 

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