Willpower may help you hang tough on the treadmill, or power through an unpleasant task until quitting time. But just how useful is it in achieving your long-term goals? According to new research, willpower won’t help if you want to lose weight, quit smoking, get out of debt, or make any other significant, long-term change.
A new study in the journal Neuron examined how often people were able to pass up a small, immediate reward for the promise of a major payoff down the road. The result: It turned out that NONE of the volunteers could hold out for the big reward 100-percent of the time. And the more impulsive their personality was, the harder it was for them to delay gratification.
So what’s the key to reaching long-term goals? The study’s lead author, Dr. Molly Crockett, says you need to avoid temptation altogether. She calls it pre-committing. For example, instead of picking up ice cream and relying on your willpower to keep you from scarfing down the whole gallon, just don’t buy it. Bottom line: If it’s not in the house, you won’t need to rely on willpower to resist it. And if designer shoes or expensive gadgets are your Achilles’ heel, cut up your credit cards, or freeze them in a plastic bag of water so you have to literally thaw them out to use them.
Dr. Crockett says that pre-committing may be tough at first because we don’t like restricting our choices. But it can be done. In fact, she’s such a believer in pre-commitment that she uses a special computer program that blocks her from browsing the Internet during work hours. And when she first activated the software, her productivity jumped substantially.