Is It Just Will Power?

So how do you feel about “will power?”  Old fashioned? Crucially necessary?  Both? 

John Tierney wrote a really wonderful piece about will power in the New York Times recently.  You can see the full article here.  I’m going to reflect here on a few elements of the scientific study of the question; then a little bit on some practical implications.

First, “decision fatigue.”  It’s not just an apt metaphor, it turns out.  Making decisions is work and work takes energy and as you run out of energy, you feel fatigued.  There it is.  There has always been a difficulty to this simple formulation among scientists who study it.  The difficulty is that no one knew how glucose could affect the brain discriminantly rather than generally.  Either your brain has enough glucose to function effectively or it does not.  But, it turns out that decision fatigue causes activity to rise in some parts of the brain and to decline in others.  There is “more activity in the nucleus accumbens, the brain’s reward center, and a corresponding decrease in the amygdala, which ordinarily helps control impulses.”

So more demands from the reward center and less resistance from the control center.  That doesn’t sound good.

Second, the more decisions you make, the more you suffer from decision fatigue.  It isn’t like a set of conversations you can imagine having.  You feel energized after this one and depleted after that one.  All the decisions cost and the more options you are considering, the more they cost; the higher the value of making a good decision, the more they cost. 

I think about that first criterion when I go to Starbucks and hear a new person go through the decisions that are necessary to get a cup of coffee.  When I go in my Starbucks, they start making my coffee when they see me coming in.  So I have much less excuse for buying the doughnut than the new guy does.  The idea that the cost of the decision varies with the cost of doing it wrong can be illustrated by the idea that it costs a poor person more to go shopping than a well off person because the trade-offs are more numerous for the poor person as is the cost of a bad decision.

Third, these studies all emphasize that there is more difference among settings for choice than there is among choosers.  I have some reservations about that myself, but let’s go with it for a little while.  Someone who “has a lot of will power” is someone who arranges his decisions properly.[1]  He builds good habits, for example, so he will choose the good options—the ones he has decided are right for him—without having to choose them every time.    She saves some will power, some “decision energy” for decisions that would otherwise catch her short.  She doesn’t run her brain near the empty line, in other words.  She anticipates routinely bad settings for decisions, like back-to-back meetings or end of the work day times.  She controls her schedule and her diet so that if she makes wrong decisions, it won’t be because her brain has run out of fuel.

Fourth, since it is the accumulated depletion of the decisions that gets to you, you might want to make fewer at a time if that is feasible or in a commercial transaction, like buying a car, put all the high cost decisions up front where you will make them better.  Here is a catchy example of sequence.

The car buyers — and these were real customers spending their own money — had to choose, for instance, among 4 styles of gearshift knobs, 13 kinds of wheel rims, 25 configurations of the engine and gearbox and a palette of 56 colors for the interior. As they started picking features, customers would carefully weigh the choices, but as decision fatigue set in, they would start settling for whatever the default option was. And the more tough choices they encountered early in the process — like going through those 56 colors to choose the precise shade of gray or brown — the quicker people became fatigued and settled for the path of least resistance by taking the default option. By manipulating the order of the car buyers’ choices, the researchers found that the customers would end up settling for different kinds of options, and the average difference totaled more than 1,500 euros per car (about $2,000 at the time). Whether the customers paid a little extra for fancy wheel rims or a lot extra for a more powerful engine depended on when the choice was offered and how much willpower was left in the customer.

The car buyers eventually just run out of gas.

And finally, it seems to me that a lot of the implications of these decisions have been anticipated for a long time by “good practices.”  People who remind you not to make important decisions when you are tired or to eat something before you go grocery shopping have had no idea at all of the mechanics underlying these prudent reminders.  I, myself, am really drawn to the mechanics, but the fact is that eating something before going on a food-buying excursion was a good idea before we found what processes support it and it remains a good idea now.

The great conundrum considered by the article is all the will power required to stay on a weight loss diet.  As you say no to one sugary snack after another, your energy is depleted and so you can sustain these decisions, you long for a quick sugar hit.  For any other kind of decision, that might be just the right thing.  For weight loss, not so much.

[1] I don’t fuss with personal pronouns much, but here I am going to use “he” sometimes and “she” sometimes.  It seems likely to me that people will think men are better at will power than women or vice versa and that really isn’t a good thing to think.  So I’m going to make sure pronouns of both flavors are present.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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83 Responses to Is It Just Will Power?

  1. Fascinating analysis…love the quip about the idea that the “car buyers eventually just run out of gas.”

    I recently wrote a post on my blog about how idiotic “The Secret” is to me, which in some ways is the antithesis of free will. Of course, for those familiar with the concept, it is essentially the idea that when you “put something out into the universe,” it may just come back to you. And to me, this concept flies in the face of free will, which gives us control over our destinies. Instead, the universe with its incredibly powerful ears somehow hears you … and responds.

    Whoa. 😉

    Of course, I know there are many “Secret” believers out there — it just so happens I’m not one of them. But I do love this topic — thank you for sharing!

    • hessd says:

      Thanks for adding the notion of “The Secret” to the free will discussion. That’s new to me. My first thought is that “free will” would have to do with our decisions, rather than with the effects of the decisions. I really think we can’t know what the effects are going to be. I’m glad you liked the post.

      • tylersr says:

        Agree with you both.

        Used to watch a lot of Law of Attraction = The Secret videos. Then I realized it implies that who we are isn’t enough by suggesting that we need to “attract” other parts of the universe to us to make ourselves happy.

        How is the Secret any diff. from consumerism, MATTERialism, etc.?

        Isn’t an application of the central message = CONsumption of ‘life’?

        Not helpful. Who we are as ourSelf as what’s HERE is enough, IMHO.

        Thanks for the post,

      • ‘”The Best Thing. It is beyond the Human capacity to imagine in the moment it is conceived. If you have a definitive thought, picture or outcome playing out in your mind about any situation, then you are not really open to The Best Thing. All energy management consists of tools used to help Universal Energy flow in its most unencumbered way. Because we are Human, we have an innate nature (ego) to hope and try for an outcome of our choosing. That is where we put the damper on The Best outcome. How many times have you seen freewill respond in an unexpected and challenging way?
        Because Universal Energy responds readily to the Law of Attraction (like attracts like), if you zero in on the feeling of satisfaction that comes from The Best Thing happening, you will attract The Best Thing for you and your situation.
        Conversely, if you focus in on the worst or most challenging out come, you are attracting three times as much of that type of energy into your Human Being. This means you are placing an order for an outcome that is not The Best for you or your situation. You are actually setting yourself up to experience the Grief Reflex and the frustration that goes with it.
        It often happens that the outcomes you can imagine and the specific scenarios actually limit the Universe in what type of energy it is able to provide for you. Your Human ability to conceive what is best may not truly be The Best Thing in the cadence of the Universe. By using your intuition or ‘gut’ to tune into the feeling of The Best Thing, you will receive energy from the Universe that supports The Best outcome or connection. When you use only your physical (Human) mind your sensitivity to The Best Thing is not as heightened as when you use your intuitive (Being) mind.”

        These are excerpts from a book that I wrote (The Best Thing: Placing Your Order with the Universe) in an effort to help people understand what “The Secret” was unable to. ***We CHOOSE the way we THINK (free-will) and as a result The Universe SENDS us what we THINK we want. That is how Human “freewill” can lead to unwanted events in our lives, even though we THOUGHT we were making the “right” choice.
        If we instead only focus on how things will FEEL when The Best outcome has resulted, we broaden our ability to receive The Best from the Universe, instead of the “stuff” we thought we wanted in our HEADS.
        By doing this (and thanks SO MUCH hessd, b/c I have a new scientific example to use) we ELIMINATE much of our decision fatigue, b/c we are not taxing ourselves with which decision is “right or wrong”, we go with the one that feels like it is taking us to the Best Life possible. And that makes us much more likely to make a supportive choice, instead of settling for the default or one that will cause us more issues.

        Last thought (I know I am long winded, but this is a passionate subject of mine and you gave me a new direction to study from!):
        Taking on the responsibility of every decision being “right or wrong” takes a lot of our energy, although we may not realize it. It is a big burden to bear. That is why if we stop “trying to do what’s RIGHT” and start using our feelings to determine the Best Thing according to the Universe, trusting that The Best Thing is always happening, we are going to attract and have The Best Life beyond what we can ever imagine! 🙂 Congrats of Freshly Pressed, glad I caught it!!!! AmberLena

  2. I don’t see much will power exercised in out culture today, but I’m a big fan of it myself. I stay at home and have specific guidelines set that I rarely question… one hour a day tv, yogurt in the fridge for a snack, etc. etc, and yes, shopping when full. I think if I explained my whole system most people would think I was overboard and strict, but it works for me. The surprising thing is it allows me more freedom, actually.

    Great post.

    • Paul Miller says:

      I’ve always been someone with little will power, and as I get older I become more aware of it’s negative impact on my life and that of those around me. If I had imagined myself free to do as I wished (eat whatever I please, buy whatever I please) I become more constrained by my desires, asserting little effort into proper decision making; so in having the perception of freedom, I have less of it. The more control we have over our desires, the more freedom we attain.
      Your comment helped me put it into perspective, thanks!

      Excellent post hessd!

  3. Cathy says:

    It includes will power. But not solely that

  4. Mezza says:

    ‘you for this post / the name caught me straight away, “The dilettante”! That is me too, to a tee in fact at times. I have so many irons in the fire at once to attend and to think about. At times it is hard to give them all justice and that does take hard work! I love the arts too, but not in a formal sense. I do love to read, learn, photograph. I like then to put into practice the things I have read! As far as the organization goes, I must have had a good teacher. It was someone who lived through the great depression of the 1930’s and so it came with the territory to be organized totally as the risk was very great. No food or clothing for the family! The people must have been exhausted from living through those times. I also went to girl guides, organization in the form of the guiding slogan or motto Be Prepared. I feel there is a lot to be said of the mechanics of being prepared. It halves the journey I always say! Well this is my reason for always wanting to be prepared and organized! The decision making processes via the brain chemistry was captivating to read! I like that sort of thing as well. The mechanics of things, Thankyou! I hope your blogs name appears on mine as having read you, Others need to read this as it is important given the times we live in again when making a wrong move can be lethal! I also feel that this is a contributing factor to PTSD. The fatigue of trying to make normal decisions over the top of this with a brain that is already in shut down mode because of the chemical cocktail it has given it self to shut it down from the stressful event Ie, CHeers for this anyways I loved it!

    • hessd says:

      I’m glad the notion of “dilettante” caught you. Looking at all the things you like to do, I can see why it would. Just don’t forget to celebrate the “delight” you find in all this.


  5. Lakia Gordon says:

    Great post! Thanks for sharing.

  6. I am sure that making so many decisions is why so many mothers (me included) are completely fatigued. Every decision may not be life threatening or crucial to long term development, but it still required energy to make that decision. I wrote a bit about this, nice to see some science to back it up.

  7. Eva McCane says:

    i love this! very interesting. psychology and the mind completly intrigue me. after reading this, i can recognize that i’m probably not the most “efficient” decision-maker. and the times when my friends ask where i want to eat, and i say i don’t care…fatigue at it’s finest. i’ve had enough at that point. i’m a single mother with a challenging career and student loans, and most of my friends are single with no kids and minimal bills (mom and dad paid them). generally lighter decisions in their worlds. so i think it’s only fair that they save a little decision energy to choose where we eat 🙂 thanks for sharing!

  8. JT says:

    I have been making decisions all day, therefore I can’t decide what I want to write. Thank you for the provocation though. 🙂

  9. bergiepowers says:

    This is really interesting. I am going to start paying more attention when I am making decisions.
    Love the Starbucks example. Reminds me of that scene in ‘You’ve Got Mail.’

  10. momsomniac says:

    Fascinating. Thank you for the concise and readable summary!

  11. convictstock says:

    Really interesting article, thanks

  12. ecodolphin says:

    This was interesting, I never quite looked at will power along these lines. I guess I’ll have to retool how I approach certain activities to give myself the upper hand, or advantage!

  13. k8edid says:

    I had never considered decision fatigue, but it does make a lot of sense, and the example of the car shoppers wore me out just considering the array of options that had to be decided. Perhaps that is why the very low calorie, highly restrictive weight loss programs (Medifast, etc) that remove choices are so effective and the people I’ve know who have done them stated it was wonderful not having to think about choosing one food over another as all those options were removed.

  14. Joe Smith says:

    Hmmm… Interesting.

  15. mommemau2 says:

    Congrats on being freshly pressed. P. S. The power of choice (i. e. freewill) is the FIRST LAW, above the LAW OF ATTRACTION. We attract what we choose. Just in case you have not read The Secret!

  16. I do not see a connection between “will power” and “decision fatigue”. Will power for me is mostly appliquable to carrying out an already made decision (avoid procrastination and so on).

    Fatigue, in my opinion, is most likely to be a consequence of an inner conflict. For example, it is natural for a normal human being to feel overwhelmed by the multitude of choices. To take a situation with buying a new car – a person has a choice to limit stimuli first; to rush out of the shop; to ask advice of a trusted friend; to give up and just buy a car on a spot. There are no good or bad decisions among them because each of them may suit a certain person in a certain time. What is crucial here is the match. I.e., if a person feels like running out but suppresses his desire out of anticipated “shame” he will indeed experience nervous exhaustion later. Or, in the example with a coffee – if one is truly not feeling like his usual choice he may choose to be considerate and take what was already made for him but then say to the water that next time he is definitely going to try new things.

    (I am leaving out hear a natural things like tiredness of a manager of a huge company after a busy day full of decision-making).

    Therefore if a person makes decisions which are right for him he cannot become exhausted because the feeling of being true to his real Self is the most rewarding thing in the world (and in this case the desision-making does not require a special strain of will power). But if he does not and thus suppresses his own Self then indeed he becomes apathetic and passive.

  17. okgrey says:

    Is this about kicking the caffeine habit? If it is, I have no will power.

  18. Quite interesting; this subject can go extremely deep, and I like how you’ve showed examples without throwing too much in. I especially love the Starbucks example. They ask me for what I want, and then ask if I want skim or lowfat milk, ice or no ice, chocolate syrup or caramel syrup, whipped cream or no whipped cream (you can see that I don’t order coffee). After a while, this gets very tiring, and I find myself exhausted just over ordering a drink! But through the day as well, choices come up. And will power is tested (I have good will power … sometimes). Very good post, thanks for sharing.

  19. gaycarboys says:

    I have no will power but wish I did. Feel free to send some my way!

  20. yoshizen says:

    It’s a very straight rational view. Interesting in deed.
    Too much thinking —> run out of glucose —> fatigue !
    May be that’s why Zen Buddhist says, [ Don’t think too much] and follow the intuition ( which has
    been sorted, and the accumulated wisdom is in one’s subconscious ).
    On the first moment, while glucose is plentiful and able to scan the subconscious data bank
    instantly —> here the best decision. No fatigue 😀

    • yoshizen says:

      After I made above comment, then wait a moment ? —– Brain activity was observed by
      the PET scanner (Positron emission tomography ) which shows energy consumption,
      ie; the oxidation of glucose —> energy to power electric pulse running in the neuron and the nerve system etc. To see PET image, even a man under examination carrying
      a quite brain taxing work, no shadow where energy depletion were detected.
      Blood supply to the brain and the control mechanism for its sugar level has been evolved
      in the million of years of the evolution = I don’t think such shot coming exists in our
      brain. (and mind you, mankind regularly eating sweets are happened only past hundred
      years or so )
      There was another research which showed that the adrenalin level and dopamine are also closely connected to the sugar level. Human mind is much more complicated.

  21. rakhikankane says:

    nicely written! interesting!

  22. Janice says:

    Thanks for the read and to the First Reader for her role in your great results :). Good work you both do, glad I found your pages, will be back for more!

  23. I think this is going to play on my mind all day. One of those things you read but can’t properly digest until you experience it in practice. Really thought provoking, thanks

  24. Right Thinking says:

    It took will power to read the whole article. I suppressed the urge to read the first couple of paragraphs and then the last couple of paragraphs. I must confess that I would have been better off going the shorter route. Anyway, I thought the article was all about a lot of fluff. Ego depletion, decision fatigue, glucose, and bla, bla, bla. Don’t get me started on the Israeli parole board! The second to the last paragraph summed everything up without all the aforementioned garbage:

    “Good decision making is not a trait of the person, in the sense that it’s always there,” Baumeister says. “It’s a state that fluctuates.” His studies show that people with the best self-control are the ones who structure their lives so as to conserve willpower. They don’t schedule endless back-to-back meetings. They avoid temptations like all-you-can-eat buffets, and they establish habits that eliminate the mental effort of making choices. Instead of deciding every morning whether or not to force themselves to exercise, they set up regular appointments to work out with a friend. Instead of counting on willpower to remain robust all day, they conserve it so that it’s available for emergencies and important decisions.

    In other words, eat well, sleep well, and don’t burn yourself out. Work within reasonable parameters and know when to take a break. Try the Pomodoro technique!

  25. Anonymous Youth says:

    Thank you for a great post, and for talking about something nearly extinct nowadays….
    I think having will power makes you a more balanced person, and therefore makes your life more balanced.
    I loved the car buyers example.

  26. Carmon Thomas says:

    Thought provoking post! Two things came to mind, the first was the business aspect but since your post is really about dieting I’ll start there:

    1. Gwen Shamblin said, in her Weigh Down workshop videos, that you should eat whatever you crave at the moment, but wait to eat until you are actually hungry – not bored or needy. Considering what you’ve just told us about decision-making, that would eliminate myriad of decisions at a single meal if you’ve already ‘decided’ to eat whatever you want. I have followed her advice for about 10 -15 years now and weigh about 120 or less. I eat chocolate when I want – yes, the real thing. I also drink milk, eat butter, etc. My cholesterol is great – high levels of good and almost no triglycerides. Now, let’s get back to business.

    2. I’m all for businesses doing, well, business. I even ‘get’ that their main goal is to make a profit. But, am I the only one who is tired of being manipulated into functioning as someone else’s cash cow? sigh Your post made me realize how much of a ‘setup’ car shopping, and grocery shopping and even clothes shopping is…think of the mall & all that meets your eye when you walk in the door. Or, just one department store – that’s why the makeup and jewelry counters are at the door – each item may mean a decision unless you’ve already decided not to even look.

    Thanks very much for exposing a significant but easily overlooked truth!

  27. Whoa .. I njoy’d read’n dis article .. quite fascinat’n .. I shall b more catious & attentive too whilst makn any decisions henceforth .. dude.. thnx a ton !! was a wonderful one 🙂 😉 Laasya !!

  28. rastelly says:

    I always thought it was a bad idea to
    shop when hungry because you tend
    think with your stomach – it’s obvious.
    Though what I see here makes since
    to. Your article makes me feel less like
    a lazy person when things like art and
    writing tire me out. I didden’t think it
    was possible to think yourself so far
    into exaustion – but I’ve noticed that
    my work looses quality the longer I
    spend on it. Please check out my
    articles if you have the time, sorry
    to nag I’m just dropping flyiers.

  29. keyofmythos says:

    I just wrote another entry on my blog and had a few minutes to check the site’s examples of popular blogs. (Before my father, 92, gets impatient with the library.) Yours jumped out. I followed down the rabbit hole. Thank you for a valuable essay and forum for discussion. Too many people think that if they have self discipline it will limit their freedom. I agree with the person who wrote that self discipline frees her to sally forth unencumbered. A favorite professor, Neil Postman told us a list of rules to live by. This included a series of routines that avoided exactly this decision fatigue. By having a set of clothes, foods, ways of going through the day, one does not have to make a million little decisions: bran muffin, blue berry or bowl of yogurt?
    As a friend long ago said “Life is a bowl of cereal. You wake up and it is there.”

  30. peterjfoster says:

    Coming at this from the Faith-based perspective, my Christian understanding is that it is “no longer my will be done but God’s will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” That’s fairly easy on the big issues the Bible talks about: forgiving, not stealing/fiddling the taxes, not lying etc. In these issues my will is aligned to His will – well, mostly!! Which makes it much easier given the fact that I can be stubborn and foolish at times! It is in the personal decisions that catch me out – the areas where God has given my free will to choose. (Is now the best time to buy Gold? Do I actually send this comment? What shall I have for food tonight?) For me I’ve found the best thing is to not decide too quickly but wait until I feel a peace about it. Some times I seem to get it right, other times not.
    Thankfully, on the issue of ‘what food tonight?’, my wife has made that decision for me. So I’ll be off now to enjoy a pleasant evening meal with my family – God willing!

  31. thoraaron says:

    Very interesting, it’s sad to hear you don’t have a better local coffee option than Starbucks, but at least you have streamlined the process there.

  32. Thanks so much for the NYT article, which I had somehow missed, and which has excused me from feeling guilty when I can’t edit a 400-page manuscript after 4 p.m.; my brain apparently isn’t reduced to mush simply because I’m old, thank God (so many other body parts are).

    As a sidebar to the willpower topic, since you mention weight loss, I have rejected it on other grounds, namely that people who brandish advice about having willpower usually do so using the Pointy Finger of Judgment. I wrote about it recently in my secondary blog (I will put the link below, in case you’d like to read it).

    So glad to have found you, via Freshly Pressed. (Get ready to exercise willpower if you intend to reply to all the comments you receive–it can be overwhelming.) I have subscribed via the button in this comment section, but other kindred spirits may not get this far and yet may want to subscribe–if you put the Subscribe/Follow widget on your home page sidebar, it would make that easier.

    Barbara Sullivan

  33. Doug says:

    I really like your point about setting up routines that steer you away from bad decisions, but once you’ve done it, then it’s really no longer about will power. Is that just admitting defeat, admitting that will power, as a concept, is dead? Or is it just smart to remove the need for it from the equation?

    As for your point about car salespeople, I have to say that I can’t understand why people allow themselves to be timid with and even afraid of salespeople. I was a salesperson some years ago, so maybe that’s why I understand the dynamic better than most. But let me assure you that as the customer, you hold 100 percent of the cards in that relationship. He/she desperately needs you in order to earn a living; you absolutely do not need him/her. There’s another dealership down the street who would love to see you come through their doors. Why in the world would anyone allow themselves to be lead around by the nose when buying anything let alone a car?

    Finally (I’m almost done rambling here), I wrote a piece some years ago positing that will power was a myth. My rather specious point was that it was all about what you wanted more. Is your desire for that cupcake stronger than your desire to feel good? To fit into your jeans? Your desire to get laid? The answer depends on how close you are to meeting/maintaining those goals already and how strong your desire for that cupcake is at that moment.

    Some people could take or leave that cupcake and never give it a moment’s thought. Did they exert any will power? Some people have desires that border on chemical dependency; if they turned away from that cupcake it would haunt them for hours until they finally gave in.

    So how does one measure will power and is it a momentary decision, or is it a gift that gives some people extraordinary power over that aspect of their lives?


  34. Great article and suprprisingly informative! Love the weight loss will power and sugar analysis… so true and I have been on that road so many times…lol.

  35. shanbo53 says:

    This was an excellent read! It’s funny that I came across this when I did, just yesterday I read about how people who are overwhelmed by personal resolutions and are unable to master their will power are often sleep deprived. That it’s not just a matter of self-control but self-control coupled with energy level. I have never made this connection on my own, cutting my hours of sleep to squeeze in more activities that I “need” to accomplish. Most of the time I don’t accomplish anything because I’m just trying to keep myself standing.
    Great food for thought and I’ll be sure to keep this in mind when going about my day. Thanks for the fodder.

  36. This actually makes a lot of sense… I can see how this could apply to behavior in children too.

  37. SaraPey says:

    I definitely need more will power now…!

  38. Ryan Brockey says:

    I really enjoyed your commentary and analysis. I actually reshared your post rather than just the source material because I think you clarify some points very nicely.

    In fact, your post made me realize something about myself. I’m one to be meticulous about the choices I make, but when I obsess about something rather inconsequential it could detract from my ability to effectively make an important decision later on. Hmm, a little bit of introspection. Thanks.

    • hessd says:

      I do that same thing, Ryan. When I catch myself giving a decision more of myself than it deserves, I pull back and reconsider. Sometimes. I think “catching ourselves at it” is probably the best we can do. Glad you liked the post.

  39. laila Alive says:

    Funny, I just up and quit my job after years of being essentially forced to run the company, and days later, a friend on facebook posted this article. I realized that it was seemingly the exact reason for my rash decision! A small but serious issue that took place, was the absolute last straw. And after reading the article, I found that I was so overwhelmed with all the decisions I had to make (while making the owner lots and LOTS of money and even bringing him a little fame) that I just lost it and walked out. But I forgot about the article until a few weeks later (today) and I really liked your analysis on it.

    Thanks much for the post…and the reminder that I’m not crazy! : )

  40. whanghaitao says:

    Great, thanks for sharing!

  41. That’s sound interesting..I will try it out somehow.

  42. Nadia Quest says:

    I have spent the majority of my life until recently over-thinking things, trying not to make a mistake and make the right choices for everyone I care for, believing this tactic would ensure a beneficial and enjoyable life for all. People who knew me well called me a “worry-wart.” I was always tired and really didn’t have much zest for life!
    After I realized certain things in life were either beyond my control or just not that important, I began to embrace the concept of go-with-the-flow, and my life has changed drastically for the better since I began putting my thought-energy into what I really want from life. People now call me laid-back and much more enjoyable to be around.
    I didn’t know there was a scientific explanation for my fatigue and subsequent rejuvenation, but I find your information fascinating and believable. I now have the life I always secretly dreamed of but never thought I could attain, all by letting go of my constant, day-to-day strict contemplation of continuous choices! Thanks for your input.

  43. Reg says:

    All the more reason to push a lot of decision making on other people — business partner, wife, those lower in the power structure. Of course a decision must then be made… regarding what decisions one dares to delegate!. This is perhaps another reason why successful businessmen are lousy at art collecting: too many decisions at the office means lousy decision-making at the auction-house.

  44. Marie says:

    Interesting and thoughtful blog. I beleive that will power is assisted by the addage “all things in moderation”. Fulfill the needs first and then vet the wants, that helps! Cheers!

  45. I would use the word self-discipline instead of willpower. I take your point about how wearying it is to make so many decisions — and I wonder if there’s a metric to show that making a decision with greater consequences (marry him or not? versus eat that cupcake) is even more tiring.

    I recently did an eight-day silent vegetarian Buddhist retreat (I am none of these things) and it was profoundly relaxing as every day was pre-planned. All I had to do was eat, rest, think, listen. I have no doubt that being freed from most “normal” decision-making had a deep effect on my ability to relax and to focus. I now miss it!

    • hessd says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful response. I agree that “willpower” is more of an advertizing word for the article that it is a useful word for a person to use. “Self-discipline” doesn’t quite do it for me either, though, because it doesn’t take in the quality of the commitment. I would like “project” or “problem” if they didn’t already mean other things. The Buddhist retreat sounds wonderful!


  46. ginaforis says:

    Have a nice day.
    Will Power is very important in life.
    Will Power is the heart of living.
    That is a very important massage
    Everything we want to do there is
    Big Will Power behind.
    thanks for massage.


  47. So I should eat a snickers bar before I go car shopping to ensure I have enough decision making power to push through to the end?

  48. nickfranks says:

    “Decision Fatigue” is a really interesting concept and the science under it is interesting too. Thanks!

  49. sleeprunning says:

    You might want to read up on free will and conscious decision making — there is no such thing.

  50. Pingback: Is It Just Will Power? | The Dilettante’s Dilemma | Non-Judging

  51. Syndykyt9Syn says:

    I will just say this “if you got the will, it will manifest. But if you don’t, well you get the idea.”

  52. rakhikankane says:

    nice blog! enjoyed reading…!

  53. Peter says:

    It’s willpower.

  54. aerah08 says:

    this article confides with each and every individuals character

  55. Jean says:

    I have procrastination issues when sometimes it’s related to work…in terms of certain decisions.

    As for weight loss, etc.: best solution is to have a few decadent goodies, some healthy stuff and other stuff that I don’t even find tasty, therefore my decision-making is easier. ie. I don’t enjoy deep fried food much. I’ll have a donut 2-3 times per yr.

    And doing something to counterbalance that is enjoyable, doesn’t require a whole lot of waffling: I don’t have a car, therefore I must bike, walk or use public transit. End of story.

    Therefore I’m not in the car-waffling mode on what to buy. 🙂

  56. Jean says:

    All of I’ve said, is that my willpower is better exercised if I already know my true boundaries and personal tastes.

  57. fasteruphill says:

    Very interesting post and article – thanks for the recommendation, which I have added to my library. Interesting how Freudian concepts are being “re-analysed” in the 21st Century.

  58. This is very interesting and insightful. Reading this has made me realize that as a consumer (especially when buying a new computer), I do eventually start to simply pick the default option because I am tired and overwhelmed by the amount of decisions I have to make. This is tricky on the vendor’s part. Thanks for posting something that made me think. : ) Hopefully in the future I will be more aware of when my will power is starting to fade.

  59. alittlemoss says:

    A great read on this topic is The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. Lots of great insights, and it might explain why habit building is so important. If we work toward setting habits for our desired behavior, perhaps we’ll get the additional payoff of decision avoidance later.

  60. rdfeinman says:

    Good post. Possibly of interest is the inflation of our indecision in eating with the phrase “portion control” which, I point out in my recent blog post, means “self control.”

  61. HL BISE says:

    Will Power fascinates me, and I don’t necessarily feel that it’s scientific—or can be measured in such a way; it’s more self-inflicted brainwashing, subconsciously, for me. Crucially necessary? Yes, for those, like me, who want to make a difference in this life and succeed.

  62. newsy1 says:

    I get more bogged down with making decisions that used to be simple; buying a cell phone, cable TV or satellite, purchasing a bicycle etc. I don’t so much end up making a bad decision due to a lack of will power, I tend to make no decision at all and stick with the status quo. So, if I am faced with 20 questions on buying a sandwich, I will pretty much say screw it and go home and make my own. Great post.

  63. hunter726 says:

    i think that as time goes on you need to realize that sometimes decisions change. it could be a loss of will power or maybe a change in desired outcome. people change their minds all the time. it doesn’t mean they have no commitment. will power is your want to do something. however strong your desire is, that is going to reflect in the effort you put forth.

  64. Nadja says:

    Hm, I had to think about this post for some time, and tried to fully understand how will power is understood here.
    Of course we all have a vast number of routines: if we had to asked ourselves each and every day, if we wanted to brush our theeth today or put on socks, we would most likely end as nervous wrecks.
    It gets a bit problematic though when it comes to setting routines that are supposedly keeping you away from ‘bad things’. It is a bit like Doug writes: Is it the muffin you want, or to fit into your jeans?
    Well, is their only one answer to that question? Situations change, and your non-decision-making routine might become less suitable for your situations than it might has been once. So, not having to make decisions might be a bless, yes, but I see a need for having to re-visit your routines, in order to see if they are indeed good for you.
    Essentially, ‘decision fatigue’ sounds negative, but will power for me means also to be open to a little bit of chaos and re-scheduling. Does that make sense?

    • hessd says:

      It makes perfect sense. Thank you for such a thoughtful reply. The Times article had to do only with individual decisions. Your very sensible proposal that we think of patterns of decisions (routines) makes me wonder whether than isn’t a good answer. The examples they chose, like buying a car, don’t lend themselves to routines, but surely weight loss does.

      On the other hand, your reference to chaos makes me think that we are not all talking about the same thing. I would have said that the certain or repetitive recurrence of events is the formal order most removed from chaos. The making of choices wouldn’t need to increase the amount of order. It would just increase the match become desired outcomes and actual outcomes.

      In any case, thanks so much for your ideas.

  65. kablom says:

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  66. Pingback: reprised’un article en anglais sur le pouvoir de la volonté tres interessant « 1million18mois

  67. pataymali says:

    A good sense of humor, keep it up!

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