Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength
By Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney
Willpower, once touted as a real human asset, has received a rather bad rap of late. In popular Western culture, willpower and self-control have come to be seen as unfortunate relics of the Victorian era or, at best, as unreliable and short-lived. Westerners have come to value selfesteem and feeling good more than self-control and personal mastery, and this has wreaked havoc on our economy and our personal lives. Countering this trend, pioneering psychologist and researcher Roy F. Baumeister and New York Times science writer John Tierney report on Baumeister’s discovery that willpower actually works like a muscle — it can be trained and strengthened with practice, and it tires with overuse.
Our willpower is fueled by glucose, and the way we eat, sleep, and supply our brain with this basic biological fuel determines how much, or little, willpower we will have. In fact, whether or not our brain has a sufficient supply of glucose drastically affects our ability to exert self-control and make good decisions. Our lives literally can go in one direction or another, based on whether or not we’ve had lunch!
This glucose connection creates a difficult situation for dieters: to restrain eating, a dieter needs willpower, but in order to have willpower, a dieter needs to eat. The authors offer powerful suggestions for handling this and other dilemmas, with lively contributions from entertainers, entrepreneurs, parents, and performers like Eric Clapton, Mary Karr, Oprah Winfrey, and others who have turned their lives around by improving their self-control.
Baumeister and Tierney affirm that we can set up our lives to reduce temptation so that discipline — and the success it brings — doesn’t have to be such a struggle. Instead of wasting our energy fighting resistance, they show us how we can make an ally of our willpower, conserve it, and use the powerful energy surge it provides for what’s most important to us.