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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 September 17, 2019

10 Simple Ways To Always Think Positive Thoughts

10 Simple Ways To Always Think Positive Thoughts

Positive thinking can lead to a lot of positive change in your life. Developing an optimistic outlook can be good for both your physical and mental health.

But sometimes, certain situations arise in life that makes it hard to keep a positive outlook. Take steps to make positive thinking become more like your second nature and you’ll reap the biggest benefits.

Here are 10 ways to make thinking positive thoughts easy:

1. Spend Time with Positive People

If you surround yourself with constant complainers, their negativity is likely to rub off on you.

Spend time with positive friends and family members to increase the likelihood that their positive thinking habits will become yours too. It’s hard to be negative when everyone around you is so positive.

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2. Take Responsibility for Your Behavior

When you encounter problems and difficulties in life, don’t play the role of the victim. Acknowledge your role in the situation and take responsibility for your behavior.

Accepting responsibility can help you learn from mistakes and prevent you from blaming others unfairly.

3. Contribute to the Community

One of the best ways to feel good about what you have, is to focus on what you have to give.

Volunteer in some manner and give back to the community. Helping others can give you a new outlook on the world and can assist you with positive thinking.

4. Read Positive and Inspirational Materials

Spend time each day reading something that encourages positive thinking. Read the Bible, spiritual material, or inspirational quotes to help you focus on what’s important to you in life. It can be a great way to start and end your day.

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Some recommendations for you:

5. Recognize and Replace Negative Thoughts

You won’t be successful at positive thinking if you’re still plagued by frequent negative thoughts. Learn to recognize and replace thoughts that are overly negative. Often, thoughts that include words like “always” and “never” signal that they aren’t true.

If you find yourself thinking something such as, “I always mess everything up,” replace it with something more realistic such as, “Sometimes I make mistakes but I learn from them.”

There’s no need to make your thoughts unrealistically positive, but instead, make them more realistic.

6. Establish and Work Toward Goals

It’s easier to be positive about problems and setbacks when you have goals that you’re working toward. Goals will give you motivation to overcome those obstacles when you encounter problems along the way. Without clear goals, it’s harder to make decisions and gauge your progress.

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Learn to set SMART goals to help you achieve more.

7. Consider the Consequences of Negativity

Spend some time thinking about the consequences of negative thinking. Often, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For example, a person who thinks, “I probably won’t get this job interview,” may put less effort into the interview. As a result, he may decrease his chances of getting the job.

Create a list of all the ways negative thinking impacts your life. It likely influences your behavior, your relationships, and your feelings. Then, create a list of the ways in which positive thinking could be beneficial.

8. Offer Compliments to Others

Look for reasons to compliment others. Be genuine in your praise and compliments, but offer it frequently. This will help you look for the good in other people.

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9. Create a Daily Gratitude List

If you start keeping a daily gratitude list, you’ll start noticing exactly how much you have to be thankful for. This can help you focus on the positive in your life instead of thinking about all the bad things that have happened in the day.

Getting in the habit of showing an attitude of gratitude makes positive thinking more of a habit. Here’re 40 Simple Ways To Practice Gratitude.

10. Practice Self-Care

Take good care of yourself and you’ll be more equipped to think positively.

Get plenty of rest and exercise and practice managing your stress well. Taking care of your physical and mental health will provide you with more energy to focus on positive thinking.

Learn about these 30 Self-Care Habits for a Strong and Healthy Mind, Body and Spirit.

More About Staying Positive

Featured photo credit: DESIGNECOLOGIST via unsplash.com

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