This is Why Willpower is Crucial for Learning
Different people may be successful for different reasons, but there is one personal trait that runs through all of them: willpower. The best laid plans may fall flat if we don’t have the willpower to strive through difficulties and distractions. It is willpower that helps us create new habits and change old ones, learn new skills, and adapt to a different environment – all necessary qualities if you want to get ahead in life.
And yet it is that one thing that comes really hard to us as humans, because of how our brains are wired. This is why willpower needs to be understood, and cultivated, if we are to learn anything new.
What is willpower?
Different people have different ideas of what defines willpower. The simplest way to define it, though, would be the ability to delay gratification of short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals. Temptations can come in the form of cravings, like a cupcake in the middle of your diet period. Or they can come in the form of fear and anxiety, when you are worried about the task ahead for some reason and are tempted to halt or stop doing it.
Both of these distractions come from a need to avoid stress and feel good, our brain pushes for it, and hence it is incredibly hard to delay them. That is why willpower is considered such an important quality to have, and cultivate.
The science of willpower
Decades of researches on willpower have thrown some interesting principles about it, which will be helpful in learning to increase it.
- Small instances of exercising willpower can help build perseverance for bigger ones.
Walter Mitchel’s famous “Stanford Marshmallow Test” had children were choosing between eating some marshmallows now, and waiting for 15 minutes and have a double-helping of them. He then tracked those children till they were about 32. The children who were able to delay gratification for 15 minutes were more successful and bigger achievers in adult life than the children who were not. The ability to delay gratification of a simple thing like a marshmallow prepared them for fighting against bigger vulnerabilities and distractions in later life.
- Willpower is like a muscle, and should be treated as such.
We all get muscle fatigue sometimes, right? Well, our willpower gets fatigued too, and it can be just as debilitating. A study by scientist Roy Baumeister found that our willpower acts just like our muscles; it tends to get fatigued when a lot of your tasks require self-control and therefore works poorly on specific tasks. This study led to two principles, that can help in training your mind to increase willpower:
- To strengthen muscles, you need to exercise. Hence, to increase willpower, you need to practice delaying gratification.
- Too much exercise can lead to muscle fatigue, and then you need rest. Too much control over self also depletes your ability to effectively delay gratification; you need to let go and replenish your willpower from time to time.
Finding the balance between exercising and resting your self-control is the key here.
- To increase willpower, you first have to believe that it is possible to change
A 2010 study by Veronica Job hinted that our beliefs about willpower can affect how much willpower we can display in order to achieve our real-life goals. Through a series of experiments, the Stanford University team found that people who believed that everybody has a limited amount of willpower and it decreases with every instance of self-control, also displayed limited willpower in their lives. On the other hand, the people who believed willpower is not fixed and it cannot be depleted, had much greater control over their selves and more willpower to push through distractions in order to achieve their goals in life.
Willpower is a complex subject, yet one of the most crucial. It is the key to achieve anything in life, whether it’s a degree or a diet, or even a new habit. Willpower makes all the difference between a great plan and an achieved goal, and hence we need to give it the importance it deserves. Look out for our next article, where we discuss the ways in which you can increase willpower through your everyday actions.