Need more self-control? Here’s a 3:42 minute willpower booster.

Need more self-control? Here’s a 3:42 minute willpower booster.


An unfortunate myth about self-control has arisen from the Stanford University marshmallow/self-control experiments (do you want one marshmallow now or two marshmallows in 10 minutes). And the myth is that self-control or willpower is some kind of fixed, genetic characteristic: you either have it or you don’t.


The myth comes from the finding that the kids who exerted self-control and were able to ignore the single marshmallow and hold out for the larger but more distant reward of two marshmallows (that’s the definition of self-control: the ability to delay immediate gratification), on average, went to do better in life – including lower BMI, better career success, better ability to manage stress and relationships, etc. – than the kids who succumbed to the single marshmallow.


But what’s less well known – as Walter Mischel, one of the original researchers, explains in his book ‘The Marshmallow Test’ – is that the ‘high self-control kids’ used distraction techniques; they fiddled and twitched, sang songs, re-imagined the single marshmallow as something inedible like fluffy clouds, etc. – anything but stare at the tasty marshmallow.


And these self-control boosting techniques are not fixed or innate. The researchers were able to teach ALL the children to improve their self-control with simple instruction for distracting themselves and reducing marshmallow-y temptation.


So, distraction, or thinking differently about the temptation, can actually REDUCE the amount of fallible, energy-intensive willpower REQUIRED to exert self-control.


But what I find particularly fascinating, is that the researchers could also boost (or decrease!) the children’s willpower with simple interventions that changed their emotions. When the children were instructed to think sad thoughts, their self-control plummeted. When they were instructed to think happy thoughts, guess what? Their self-control sky-rocketed.


As I’m close to finishing my own book, I’ve boosted my own willpower and self-control (and focus and creativity!) by boosting my mood. As well as exercise, sunshine and socializing with constructive people, I have a playlist of uplifting videos and music that never fail to give me a boost.


Here’s is a link to ‘Do what you can’t’, a PUMPING 3.42 minute video by Casey Neistat. I listen to it whenever I feel in need of a lift. I hope you watch it – even for just a few seconds – and that it lifts you along with your willpower and self-control.


And maybe you could have your own handy list of enjoyable music and videos that boost your willpower … Also, don’t sit and stare at the single marshmallow.


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Want further reading?
How to tell when your inner critic is lying through its teeth –  Very topical, and in which I explain why I wish everyone would get a Ph.D.

I can’t do it! – Also very topical, written earlier in my recovering-workaholic-rehab phase.

“And you have treasures hidden within you – extraordinary treasures – and so so I, and so does everyone around us. And bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small” 

– more intracranial gems from Elizabeth Gilbert.

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