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If You Want To Focus More, Never Try Harder, Science Says

If You Want To Focus More, Never Try Harder, Science Says

Often when we try to focus on a task or avoid temptation we try to use all our willpower. We invest all our energy into concentrating on one thing or not thinking about the temptation. However, a study has shown that when we do this we deplete our willpower. The harder we try the more we end up fatigued and out of strength, just like the participants in the experiment.

The Study

In 1996, Roy Baumeister together with his Case Western Reserve University colleagues examined the workings of willpower. To do so they created an experiment that was somewhat cruel. They engaged participants in a food challenge that aimed to deplete the participants’ will power.

The experiment involved 67 study participants. The participants were led into a room that had the aroma of freshly baked chocolate cookies. The actual cookies and other chocolate-flavored confectionary were then brought into the room.

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Some of the participants were given permission to eat the chocolate sweets while the participants who formed the experimental condition group were told to eat radishes instead.

Many of the people who were left to eat radishes “exhibit[ed] clear interest in the chocolates, to the point of looking longingly at the chocolate display and in a few cases even picking up the cookies to sniff at them,” the scientists wrote in their Journal of Personality and Social Psychology paper.

The Experimental Results

After the cookie and radish part of the experiment Baumeister’s team gave the participants another test that was seemingly unrelated. This test involved solving a persistence-testing puzzle. The participants were led to believe that they were undertaking an intelligence test but the real test was to see how long the students would persist before giving up.

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The participants who had been allowed to eat the chocolate treats worked on the puzzle for an average of 20 minutes. The radish eaters didn’t last nearly this long. On average they gave up after only 8 minutes.

Thus, those people who had to resist the confectionary and eat the plain vegetables could not engage in a second demanding task. Their willpower was already drained and they were too tired.

Interpretation Of The Results

For most of history it was commonly believed that willpower is a virtue that you either possess or lack. This however, is not the case as some days we have more willpower to, say for example do a good job at work.

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The central finding of this study was a breakthrough.

It was learnt that: “self-control is a general strength that’s used across different sorts of tasks  — and it could be depleted. This proved that self-regulation is not a skill to be mastered or a rote function that can be performed with little consequence. It’s like using a muscle: After exercising it, it loses its strength, gets fatigued, and becomes ineffectual, at least in the short-term.”

In other words, willpower isn’t a skill at all. It is actually more like a muscle. And like other muscles in the body, willpower gets exhausted from overuse.

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How To Improve Your Willpower

The good news is that willpower can be strengthened with practice.

In his article Colin Robertson writes: “The key is to focus on simply taking it one goal at a time. When you focus on one goal at a time, you actually strengthen your willpower!”

If we try to do too much, like, for example go on a diet and try to focus intensely on our work we end up depleting our willpower. We are like the radish eaters we took too much on ourselves and ended up getting fatigued.

It is like going to the gym and trying to bench press an enormous weight; you will end up failing. If, however, you start slowly with a smaller weight you can gradually build up muscle strength and in the end you will be bench pressing heavy weights.

Summation

So next time you want to focus on a task or avoid temptation try starting small. Give yourself bit size manageable goals and by achieving them over time you will strengthen your willpower and in the end you will have the power to accomplish more.

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Rebecca Beris

Rebecca is a wellness and lifestyle writer at Lifehack.

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Last Updated on July 18, 2019

What Makes People Happy? 20 Secrets of “Always Happy” People

What Makes People Happy? 20 Secrets of “Always Happy” People

Some people just seem to float through life with a relentless sense of happiness – through the toughest of times, they’re unfazed and aloof, stopping to smell the roses and drinking out of a glass half full.

They may not have much to be happy about, but the simplicity behind that fact itself may make them happy.

It’s all a matter of perspective, conscious effort and self-awareness. Listed below are a number of reasons why some people are always happy.

1. They Manage Their Expectations

They’re not crushed when they don’t get what they want – or misled into expecting to get the most out of every situation. They approach every situation pragmatically, hoping for the best but being prepared for the worst.

2. They Don’t Set Unrealistic Standards

Similar to the last point, they don’t live their lives in a constant pursuit towards impossible visions of perfection, only to always find themselves falling short of what they want.

3. They Don’t Take Anything for Granted

Happiness rests with feeling fulfilled – those who fail to stop and appreciate what they have every now and again will never experience true fulfillment.

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4. They’re Not Materialistic

There are arguing viewpoints on whether or not money can really buy happiness; if it can, then we know from experience that we can never be satisfied because there will always be something newer or better that we want. Who has ever had enough money?

5. They Don’t Dwell

They don’t sweat the small things or waste time worrying about things that don’t really matter at the end of the day. They don’t let negative thoughts latch onto them and drain them or distract them. Life’s too short to worry.

6. They Care About Themselves First

They’re independent, care for themselves and understand that they must put their needs first in order to accommodate the needs of others.

They indulge, aim to get what they want, make time for themselves and are extremely self-reliant.

7. They Enjoy the Little Things

They stop to smell the roses. They’re accustomed to find serenity when it’s available, to welcome entertainment or a stimulating discussion with a stranger when it crosses their path. They don’t overlook the small things in life that can be just as important.

8. They Can Adapt

They’re not afraid of change and they work to make the most out of new circumstances, good or bad. They thrive under pressure, are not overwhelmed easily and always embrace a change of pace.

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9. They Experiment

They try new things, experience new flavors and never shy away from something they have yet to experience. They never order twice from the same menu.

10. They Take Their Time

They don’t unnecessarily rush through life. They work on their own schedule to the extent that they can and maneuver through life at their own relaxing pace.

11. They Employ Different Perspectives

They’re not stuck in one perspective; a loss can result in a new opportunity, hitting rock bottom can mean that there’s no where to go but up.

12. They Seek to Learn

Their constant pursuit of knowledge keeps them inspired and interested in life. They cherish information and are on a life-long quest to learn as much as they can.

13. They Always Have a Plan

They don’t find themselves drifting without purpose. When something doesn’t go as planned, they have a plan for every letter in the alphabet to fall back on.

14. They Give Respect to Get It

They are respectful and, in turn, are seen as respectable; the respect they exude earns them the respect they deserve.

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15. They Consider Every Opportunity

They always have their eyes open for a new road, a new avenue worth exploring. They know how to recognize opportune moments and pounce on them to make the most of every situation. Success is inevitable for them.

16. They Always Seek to Improve

Perpetual self-improvement is the key towards their ongoing thirst for success. Whatever it is they do, they take pride in getting better and better, from social interactions to mundane tasks. Their pursuit at being the best eventually materializes.

17. They Don’t Take Life Too Seriously

They’re not ones to get offended easily over-analyze or complicate matters. They laugh at their own faults and misfortunes.

18. They Live in the Moment

They don’t live for tomorrow or dwell on what may have happened yesterday. Every day is a new opportunity, a new chapter. They live in the now, and in doing so, get the most out of every moment.

You can learn how to do so too: How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying About the Past or Future

19. They Say Yes

Much more often than they say no. They don’t have to be badgered to go out, don’t shy away from new opportunities or anything that may seem inconvenient.

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20. They’re Self-Aware

Most important, they’re wholly aware of themselves. They self-reflect and are conscious of their states of mind. If somethings bothering them, they fix it.

We’re all susceptible to feeling down every now and again, but we are all equipped with the necessary solutions that just have to be discovered.

Lack of confidence, inability to feel fulfilled, and susceptibility to stress are all matters that can be controlled through the way we handle our lives and perceive our circumstances.

Learn about How Self-Reflection Gives You a Happier and More Successful Life.

Final Thoughts

The main philosophy employed by the happiest includes the idea that life’s simply too short: life’s too short to let things get you down, to take things for granted, to pursue absolute and unrealistic perfection.

For some, employing these characteristics is a second nature – they do it without knowing. For others, a conscious effort must be put forth every now and again. Self-Awareness is key.

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Featured photo credit: Charles Postiaux via unsplash.com

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