Key to willpower lies in believing you have it in abundance, says educational psychology study

by Sharita Forrest  /   Jan 18, 2018

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Assistant Professor Christopher Napolitano of the Department of Educational Psychology

People who believe they have an abundant supply of self-control are more likely to feel invigorated by mentally taxing activities than people who believe their willpower is a finite resource, according to a new study by lead author Christopher Napolitano, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology.

More than 1,100 Americans and 1,600 Europeans—including 775 Swiss and 871 German-speaking adults—participated in the study, which tested the validity of a widely used psychological assessment tool called the Implicit Theory of Willpower for Strenuous Mental Activities Scale.

Americans in the study, which was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation, were more likely to indicate that they needed breaks to rest and recover after performing mentally taxing activities, while their European counterparts reported feeling more invigorated and ready to jump into the next challenging task immediately.

“What matters most is what we think about our willpower,” said Napolitano. “When we view our willpower as limited, it’s similar to a muscle that gets tired and needs rest. If we believe it is a finite resource, we act that way, feeling exhausted and needing breaks between demanding mental tasks, while people who view their willpower as a limitless resource get energized instead.” 

Why do some people seem locked in a lifelong battle for self-control while others are so self-disciplined—impervious to overeating, overspending or binge-watching TV shows when they feel pressured?

The secret to having ironclad willpower lies in believing that you have an unlimited supply of it, Napolitano said.

“Your feelings about your willpower affect the way you behave—but these feelings are changeable,” Napolitano said. “Changing your beliefs about the nature of your self-control can have positive effects on development, leading to healthier behaviors and perceptions of others.”

Read the full article from the Illinois News Bureau.