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The Authors of Willpower Answer Your Questions

Last week, we solicited your questions for John Tierney and Roy Baumeister, authors of the new book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength . You responded with a variety of interesting questions, and now Tierney and Baumeister return with some in-depth answers.

Thanks to everyone for participating.

 

Q. Is willpower a single commodity (so to speak), or is there, as I suspect, a one type of willpower for, say, dieting, another one for academic study, another for this, another for that? -AaronS

A. No, there’s just one single resource (or commodity). There’s one source of mental energy for resisting temptation and performing other acts of self-control, and this willpower is also depleted by making decisions. What you experience may reflect the fact that willpower is limited and so people have to allocate it: they use it at the office to work effectively and diligently, but have messy homes and are short-tempered in the evening. Or people who show wonderful self-control at dealing with personal relationships but can’t seem to meet their deadlines. Read More »





Bring Your Questions for Willpower Authors Roy Baumeister and John Tierney

What’s the most coveted human virtue — empathy? honesty? courage?

Or how about … self-control?

That’s the assertion of the new book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength*, by Roy Baumeister, a research psychologist at Florida State, and John Tierney**, a New York Times science writer. The book builds off Baumeister’s research on the physical aspect of willpower, which he and his research collaborators found behaves like a muscle: it can be strengthened through exercise but it becomes fatigued from overuse. Willpower is generated in large part by sleep and diet, and feeds off of the glucose in our bloodstream.

Baumeister and Tierney argue that our ability (or inability) to exercise self-control is most often the key between success and failure. And it’s hard not to see their point: I type these words on the very day that a special election is being held in New York to replace the disgraced (and aptonymic) Congressman Anthony Weiner. Read More »





Save Me From Myself: A Freakonomics Radio Rebroadcast

This week’s podcast is a rebroadcast of one of our favorites, “Save Me From Myself.” It’s about commitment devices — that is, clever ways to trick yourself, or trap yourself, into doing something that you want to do but for whatever reason (lack of willpower, maybe?) aren’t able to. Happy New Year from all of us at Freakonomics Radio!





Lottery Loopholes and Deadly Doctors: Full Transcript

Stephen J. DUBNER: There’s something Peter Tufano wants to know about you: “If you had to, could you come up with $2000 in 30 days?” That’s the question he asked a whole bunch of people in 13 countries, including the U.S.   Peter TUFANO: Why $2000?  Because an auto transmission is about fifteen hundred.   Most estimates […] Read More »





Good Reading in This Weekend’s Times

1. Adam Davidson on high-end nannies.

2. Nathaniel Penn with a snapshot of a recent class of college grads (depressing).

3. Alicia Tugend with a fascinating piece about how we remember and process criticism/bad events more forcefully than praise/good events. It’s a psychological take on loss aversion, with good examples from Clifford Nass, Roy Baumeister, and Teresa Amabile.





Daylight Savings Time and “Cyberloafing”

New research suggests that people “cyberloaf” (i.e. websurf instead of working) more when they are tired. Some people may find this surprising. (We do not.) If nothing else, this is another argument against Daylight Savings Time. As the BPS Research Digest explains:

The investigators recognised an event that affects everyone’s sleep: when the clocks go forward for Daylight Saving Time. Prior evidence suggests we lose on average 40 minutes of sleep per night following the switch, as our body rhythms struggle to adjust.

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Because Parenting Is Hard Enough on Its Own

We’ve blogged before about the limits of willpower, the idea that “willpower itself is inherently limited.” A new essay by Sendhil Mullainathan and Saugato Datta speculates on the role of parents’ willpower limitations, particularly with respect to low-income parents:  

Good parenting requires psychic resources. Complex decisions must be made. Sacrifices must be made in the moment. This is hard for anyone, whatever their income: we all have limited reserves of self-control, and attention and other psychic resources. …

Read More »





Freakonomics Poll: Have You Tried a Commitment Device?

Our latest podcast, “Save Me From Myself,” is about the use of commitment devices. (You can download/subscribe at iTunes or get the RSS feed.)

A commitment device is a sort of mind trick to help you accomplish a goal that you don’t quite have the willpower to achieve on your own. Sometimes we need a contract with ourselves, or a little financial stake for motivation. This goal can be exercising, studying, quitting smoking, or anything really.

So we want to ask: have you tried one? What was it? And, most important, how did it turn out? Read More »