Why willpower fails us
Can’t control your spending?
Don’t blame your weak willpower.
Blame your wrong-headed idea of what willpower is.
Academics from Stanford University and the University of Zurich found something strange about people.
Those who believed willpower was ‘‘weakened’’ by use were more likely to binge eat, binge on TV, and binge spend.
While those who believed willpower was not weakened by use were less likely to fall into a cycle of self-denial followed by splurge.
The old accepted theory was that willpower was depleted by use, a bit like a person getting tired during running a foot race.
After willpower had been exerted, it needed a jolly good rest to recover.
Worse, self-restraint was followed by that tendency to overindulge. Using your willpower could be dangerous!
But if the US-Swiss academics are right, and willpower is more like a muscle that does not tire but gets stronger with use, a little neurolinguistic self-reprogramming is in order for many of us.
So, repeat after me: ‘‘When I
use my willpower it does not weaken me.’’
‘‘My willpower grows stronger the more I use it.’’
‘‘I will save more money. I will spend less.’’
Feel stronger? I didn’t think so, which is a shame, because people need strong willpower more than ever before.
If I stopped typing now, and instead applied to Harmoney for a $15,000 loan to spend on a giant bouncy castle for my garden, I would get it easily. I bet I would also be able to buy the bouncy castle within an hour.
We live in a world where the internet has become the largest ‘‘open all hours’’ shopping mall and loan shop in human history.
Fortunately, we also live in an era when we can automate willpower.
The best example of automated willpower is KiwiSaver, delivered to us by a government that didn’t think we had any.
But you can automate savings yourself. All you do is decide what you want to save, and how, for example dripfeeding $500 a month into a savings account, or NZX’s Smartshares, or an ordinary super fund.
For those still with mortgages, upping mortgage repayments is a form of automated saving.
All we have to do is work out our level of ambition to set the level of our automated willpower.
I recommend ambition-setting on three time-frames: short-term (saving for Christmas), medium-term (building up that emergency rainy day fund), and long-term (clearing the mortgage/saving for retirement).
Robo-willpower is helpful, but it is complementary to human willpower.
We still all have to develop our own willpower to avoid slipping into that cycle of self-denial followed by binge, or having a spend-up when we feel chuffed at how much we’ve saved. And for that, it seems, we have to learn to see willpower differently.
‘‘We live in a world where the internet has become the largest 'open all hours' shopping mall and loan shop in human history.’’
Willpower training: ‘‘I will NOT eat those cakes, I will NOT eat those cakes...’’