John's Blog

The Blog of John Gibson, PhD



The concept of “willpower” seems to be making a comeback in psychology.

Two findings are emerging from the research. One is that your willpower can be depleted. It’s as if you only have so much self-control to go around, and once you’ve used up what you’ve got you’re much more likely to give in to desires and temptations.

Example: you manage to be “good” at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but when the end of the day comes, you find yourself “giving in” to cookies or drinks.

Or course, some people have more success than others in the self-control department. But if the research is to be believed, it may not be that their willpower is so strong as much as they’ve hit upon a simple strategy that helps them preserve what willpower they’ve got. They go out of the their way to avoid temptation in the first place.

Example: instead restraining yourself in the cookie aisle, you avoid it entirely, thereby saving yourself from having to exhaust a precious resource.

The late Peter Jennings said he returned to smoking during the 9/11 crisis. Apparently the marathon coverage he provided exhausted him. He knew better than to revert back to an old destructive pattern, of course. But the stress of working so hard apparently depleted his supply of self-control. (He died of lung cancer.)