Willpower and its limits

Nice report on research from Scientific American: Setting your mind on a goal may be counterproductive. Instead think of the future as an open question. They split people into two groups for a series of experiments. One group was primed for willpower (eg by having to write out the phrase “I will” multiple times); the other for curiosity (eg writing “Will I?”). The groups primed for curiosity went on to significantly outperform the wilful group. There’s a lesson there for control freaks of all stripes. As the post says

It indicates that those with questioning minds were more intrinsically motivated to change. They were looking for a positive inspiration from within rather than attempting to hold themselves to a rigid standard. Those asserting will lacked this internal inspiration which explains in part their weak commitment to future change. Put in terms of addiction recovery and self-improvement in general, those who were asserting their willpower were in effect closing their minds and narrowing their view of their future.

Hat tip: Tweet from Bruce Lewin

1 thought on “Willpower and its limits

  1. Charles Frith

    I recently quit smoking. It’s only my 3rd week but that’s the longest for 20 years or so and I think I got this far by asking what if instead of I will. It’s an open ended experiment that still goes on so I ask myself before a night out, I wonder if I could really go a night of drinking without smoking and instead of failing I keep finding discoveries that compensate for keeping that open mind.


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