“Improving willpower is the surest way to a better life”, Now that’s a serious statement and begs the question, what is willpower?

Well, Roy Baumeister, one of the worlds leading social psychologists and research scientists along with New York Times bestselling journalist John Tierney explore this in their book;

Willpower; Rediscovering the greatest human strength

They say that “We think that research into willpower and self-control is psychology’s best hope for contributing to human welfare”.

Wow, that’s a bold statement! But they go right to the heart of it showing you the pulse of personal development and how you can maximise your own success rate…

So who is this book really for? 

Anyone interested in personal growth, the science of success, especially anyone interested in the subject of developing self-discipline and techniques on high performance. 

Which can be applied to all areas of life with career goals and entrepreneurship being Top of the list…


But where does it all begin?

At the start of the book, they give a detailed historical outline of the western cultural framework and its effect on willpower and the changes in human behaviour due to the changes in society, Like the “If it feels good, do it” mantra of the 1960s and how this affects willpower.

Moving in the first chapters they begin to unpack the experiments and statistical surveys which shines the light on how the “Will” works and what factors contribute to the welfare and the increase in success rates and accomplishments in life.

In experiments first reported in 1998, Baumeister and his collaborators discovered that the will, like a muscle, can be fatigued. Immediately after students engage in a task that requires them to control their impulses, like;

  • Resisting cookies while hungry
  • Tracking a boring display while ignoring a comedy video
  • Writing down their thoughts without thinking about a polar bear
  • Suppressing their emotions while watching the scene in “Terms of Endearment” in which a dying Debra Winger says goodbye to her children

They show lapses in a subsequent task that also requires an exercise of willpower, like;

  • Solving difficult puzzles
  • Squeezing a handgrip
  • Stifling sexual or violent thoughts
  • keeping their payment for participating in the study rather than immediately blowing it on Doritos.

Baumeister tagged the effect “ego depletion”, using Freud’s sense of “ego” as the mental entity that controls the passions.

So what actually is this thing we call willpower?

Overall, Willpower, when observed in the laboratory, provides people with the strength to persevere and that a persons willpower depletes as they lose self-control and how this mental energy is fuelled by glucose in the body’s bloodstream and other factors which we will examine further.

Baumeister then pushed the muscle metaphor even further by showing that a depleted ego can be invigorated by a sugary pick-me-up (though not an indistinguishable beverage containing diet sweetener). He showed that self-control, though almost certainly heritable in part, can be toned up by exercising it.

Willpower and self-control are the king commanders of all other virtues and willpower will improve your self, health, wealth and happiness.

Self-control is a better predictor of;  Academic success than IQ, leadership than charisma and marital bliss than empathy.

Researchers who studied over one million people around the world found that among all the virtues people listed as their greatest human strength;

  • Honesty
  • kindness
  • Creativity
  • Humour
  • Bravery

and others that self-control ranked last…

When people were asked of their feelings of failure a lack of self-control was at the top of the list.

The virtue of self-control focused and exhibited in one area of your life will increase boost and strengthen the muscle of willpower that will then extend into other parts of your life.






Why they think willpower, in reality, is finite;

So in the first chapter, they present very interesting findings from an experiment. One of the biggest leaps forward in the scientific study of willpower came in the 1990s, from a psychologist called Roy Baumeister.

Baumeister and his colleagues conducted an experiment that has since been cited over 3,000 times, which seemed to prove that willpower is a finite resource that we can run out of.

The study had participants wait in a room with two plates of food: freshly-baked cookies and radishes. Some participants were instructed to only eat the cookies, while others were only allowed to eat the radishes.

The experiments consistently demonstrated two lessons

1You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it.

2. You use the same stock of willpower for all manner of tasks.”

The first lesson – commonly referred to as ego depletion – is beautifully illustrated with a classic study called the radish experiment. Baumeister and his team presented hungry college students with a bowl of radishes and a bowl of chocolates.

Both bowls were placed in front of each student. Half of them were told to eat chocolates, but no radishes. The other half to eat radishes, but no chocolates. The researchers expected the radish-eaters to use up a significant amount of willpower.

To find out if that was the case, the researchers gave each student a difficult, in fact, an unsolvable puzzle to solve…

What interested the researchers was how long students would work on it before giving up. Lo and behold, the radish-eaters gave up much faster than the chocolate-eaters did.

They had used up a lot of willpower resisting the chocolates and were left exhausted when trying to solve the puzzle…

This experiment has been replicated countless times, and the results are always the same. If you’ve just finished doing something that requires a lot of willpower, you’ve spent a lot of your overall willpower strength as well.

There’s only so much willpower available in your tank…

Once you’ve used it all up, you lose your ability to self-regulate on upcoming tasks. You probably experience this in your life all the time. When you come home after a stressful day at work, what are you more likely to do:

the easy thing or the hard thing? Watch TV or exercise?

The second lesson – is that we use the same reservoir of willpower for pretty much everything. There’s no separate source for work, another for exercise, another for dieting, or another for being nice to your kids. No matter where you exert self-control, it draws on the same source of energy.

You use the same supply to deal with tempting food, annoying colleagues, frustrating traffic, or demanding bosses.

This study seemed to prove that using up willpower on one temptation can mean we have less left over for other tasks. And other studies have backed up the finding.

Over 100 studies, in fact, have shown some effect of what researchers call “ego depletion,” where using up willpower on one task leaves less available for a future task. 

So in review here are a few points to apply for your personal development:


Willpower is like a battery;

Think of willpower like a battery on your phone, it depletes throughout the day as you use it for certain tasks some tasks drain it more than others as they require more willpower to make a decision, which can result in decision fatigue. You then have to recharge your phone overnight again, rather like us with rest.

Believe a dip in willpower is temporary;

What you believe about willpower appears to be the key to how much willpower you can actually use. Those who believe a dip in willpower is only temporary and can be overcome, are more likely to bounce back than those who worry about lacking willpower as a permanent condition.

It’s not easy to change our beliefs, but try reminding yourself whenever you’re feeling low on willpower that it’s temporary, and you’ll have more in the future. Try not to tell yourself you’re a person with low willpower all the time, as it may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Treat willpower as an emotion;

We treat willpower as we would an emotion. Our emotions tell us important information about our circumstances if we pay attention to them. They can help us understand how best to look after ourselves and what our needs are.

Listening to our willpower, then, can help us understand when we’re not in a great space to be doing something difficult, or when we’ve got plenty of self-control to spare, and can handle something we might otherwise avoid…

“Willpower; Rediscovering the greatest Human strength” is filled with advice about what to do with your willpower. Build up its strength, the authors suggest, with small but regular exercises, like tidiness and good posture.

Don’t try to tame every bad habit at once…

Watch for symptoms of ego fatigue, because in that recovery period you are especially likely to blow your stack, your budget and your diet. For that matter, don’t diet in the first place, since it starves the very system that implements self-control…

The authors also recommend software like www.mint.com that can help you budget and monitor, audit, broadcast, punish or pre-empt lapses of will in spending and internet use, in particular, useful for those Internet junkies and info-maniacs.

So in short when people resist one temptation but not another, it’s because their egos have been fatigued by exercise; when they resist temptations across the board, it’s because their egos have been strengthened by exercise.






Nonetheless, Willpower; rediscovering the greatest human strength is an immensely rewarding book, filled with ingenious research, practical advice and insightful reflections on the human condition…

You can Learn more on how to raise the quality of your life and maximise your productivity in our 9 top tips for willpower article…

By a little bit of good old fashioned self-control, this is a classic must read that should in your book collection…

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