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Surprising Science

How to Boost Your Willpower

If you are already toe to toe with your New Year’s resolution, gritting your teeth is not the best way to overcome the temptation to cheat. Understanding your willpower’s limitations is essential.

What’s the Latest Development?

New research demonstrates how malleable, if not weak, our willpower really is. When a behavioral economist at Stanford assigned numbers to two groups of students to rememberone group received seven digits numbers, the other group was given two digitsthe burden of memorizing seven digits greatly diminished that group’s ability to resist unhealthy behavior. When given a choice between fruit salad and chocolate cake, the seven-digit group greatly preferred the chocolate cake. Willpower is a precious commodity.

What’s the Big Idea?

If you want to better accomplish the tasks you have set for yourself, you must learn to be cleverer than your will, which talks big but often fails to deliver. While we typically think of willpower as an ingrained mark of our personal character, those with seemingly powerful wills steer clear of gritting their teeth and resisting the temptation to just have a nap instead. ‘Strategic allocation of attention’ is the key to understanding self-control: Instead of resolving to resist that pint of ice cream in the freezer, resolve not to walk down the ice cream isle at the grocery store.

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