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Willpower & New Year’s Resolutions

Odysseus had himself tied to the mast, and that still works against modern sirens.

John Tierney, co-author of Willpower, argues that to keep your New Year's promises to yourself, you must first recognize that human will is a depleatable physical resource.

One of their newest studies, published last month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, tracked people’s reactions to temptations throughout the day. The study, led by Wilhelm Hofmann of the University of Chicago, showed that the people with the best self-control, paradoxically, are the ones who use their willpower less often. Instead of fending off one urge after another, these people set up their lives to minimize temptations. They play offense, not defense, using their willpower in advance so that they avoid crises, conserve their energy and outsource as much self-control as they can.

These strategies are particularly important if you’re trying to lose weight, which is the most typical New Year’s resolution as well as the most difficult. The more you starve your body, the less glucose there will be in your bloodstream, and that means less willpower. Because of this vicious cycle, even people with great self-control in the rest of their lives can have a terrible time remaining slim.

Self-restraint can seem harder than ever because there are so many new temptations being marketed — high-calorie foods, distracting gadgets, time-sucking Web sites. But there are also better strategies than ever available thanks to new research in both the lab and the real world, including vast troves of data from online programs for improving self-control.

Do you want to learn more about the limits of Willpower and strategies to be more successful? Read Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.

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