Please Explain: Willpower

Friday, December 23, 2011

New York Times science writer John Tierney , co-author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, talks about self-control. He's joined by Dr. Walter Mischel, Niven Professor of Humane Letters in Psychology, Columbia University. They'll explain how to build willpower and how conserve it for crucial moments.


Walter Mischel and John Tierney

Comments [16]

Mr. X.

Does anyone know the title and artist of the instrumental music used to intro this segment. Also does anyone know more information about Dr. Mischel's assertion that young people can get better in the area of willpower and not be doomed by that early experiment, does Dr. Mischel have a book on the subject? Thanks.

Dec. 24 2011 06:43 AM
Jude from Brooklyn

I found a disturbing lack of discussion regarding the crucial formative processes in parent-infant relations and interactions as these relate to development of "will power". It is clear that varying kinds of affective responsiveness within the communications between parent(s) and infants are foundational to the developing being. Internalization of qualities, effects and ways of being in a developing self through relational patterns and styles are linked directly to later capacities for self soothing, development of will power, frustration tolerance, impulse control, self esteem among many other skills.

Infants emotional and physical states of being communicated along the sensory dimensions through a prolonged preverbal period come as a full body "dialogue" between caregivers and their babies. These interactions shape the nervous system from nursing onward and the quality of attunement in this dialogue is clearly the most powerful factor having an impact on the infants developing nervous system and capacities.

It is notable that studies revealing optimal responsiveness for development include a degree of inevitable and necessary gaps in communication or recognition of the other, this gap, when not too distressing or prolonged encourages a redoubling of efforts and development of skills on the child's part. The ways that these frustrations and strivings are dealt with between parent and child are equally critical in development. As patterns of meaning making within interpersonal dynamics develope, they clearly remain inextricable from what becomes increasingly independent self regulation and self esteem regulation processes. Thus independent processes rely on internalized relational patterns psychically, with both hopes and despairs from therein having their part in our lives.

Dec. 23 2011 02:19 PM

John A. hit the nail on the head IMO . Someone should draw the connection between this type of attitude and the SAT still being a racist / quasi-religious institution that keeps the right people in the right schools.

For example, I was instructed in SAT prep to not read whole passages, to save time by going back and forth between the questions and the reading a passage. This method often leads to the elimination of all but two possible answers.. The problem I had was that the difference between the two is so subtle, and that the answer was always in the particular wording, ie the difference between "guilt and regret" .. The answer often being like 'regret' for reasons of "guilt" being too harsh of a word.

Thats the kind of BS that sent me to Pratt and not Harvard or Yale.

Dec. 23 2011 12:54 PM
The Truth from Becky

Just being in my office around the holidays is a test of the willpower with all the sweets, pastries and chocolates being delivered.

Dec. 23 2011 12:39 PM
Amy from Manhattan

To follow up on my call: If higher blood sugar promotes will power, why do diabetics have less will power? Does that happen after they take insulin? Is it about a drop in blood sugar rather than an ongoing low level? Or anything outside normal levels, whether higher or lower?

Dec. 23 2011 12:39 PM
parisbreakfast from Astoria

What about 'working in the candy store' as a way to develope a non-response to sugar/sweets?
I photograph pastries constantly and they've lost alot of their attraction to me, but not to my blog readers who drool.

Dec. 23 2011 12:37 PM
Erika from Brooklyn

I joined the show a little late so don't know if your guests have addressed the role of early childhood trauma in self-regulation and self-soothing. While many people assume that very young children don't understand when violence and other traumatic events go on around them, trauma research shows it can impact children even in utero, and influence both brain structure and the development of these and other key developmental tasks. As demonstrated through the Adverse Childhood Experiences study, such early trauma can be impact children throughout their lifespan.

Dec. 23 2011 12:30 PM
Grace from Jersey City

What about biochemistry relating to will power. In regard to dieting I have heard that low levels of serotonin, magnesium, zinc, and l-glutemine can lead to cravings that may have little to do with one's personality flaws. Any thoughts?

Dec. 23 2011 12:30 PM

can hypnosis help to improve will power in certain areas?

Dec. 23 2011 12:29 PM
Laurie from Tribeca

So far you've talk only about "won't power" - resisting temptation. I want to hear more about making yourself do difficult things. Have there been any studies?

Dec. 23 2011 12:27 PM
John A.

I detect a pattern. Freud said patience was based on the ability to hold symbolic images in ones head. These researchers link patience with success in life. The religious are frequently studied to be happier (with EG better health). Religion concerns a non-physical, symbolic world. Two sides of the same solution I believe.

Dec. 23 2011 12:26 PM
Paula from Manhattan

I am an alchoholic and one of the sayings which signals danger of picking up is:
"stinking thinking" . This reminds us that when we think or rather "dwell" upon a drink, it's more likely
we will pick up, as opposed to thinking it through!

Dec. 23 2011 12:26 PM
Louise from North Brunswick NJ

What are the neurobiological mechanisms underlying willpower? If glucose affects its strength, then that substance must affect certain neurotransmitters.

Dec. 23 2011 12:25 PM
Catherine from Bellport, New York

Love this topic! My 14mo old son has 2 parents who have long struggled with controlling impulsivity... (as have most Americans these days). Since the first moment I held him I've been doing things like taking long, slow breaths when he was agitated (i.e. learning how to breastfeed, fighting a diaper change etc). Today, every time I give him his bottle I put it in front of him and then take a moment to prep it some more so that he gets used to sitting right in front of something he desperately wants but has to wait for. He's gotten so used to it now that he reaches at first but then puts his hands in his lap and waits patiently until I hand it to him.

Dec. 23 2011 12:24 PM
ellen from Manhattan

F. Scott Peck, in his book "The Road Less Traveled," said if you haven't learned delayed gratification by age 4 opr some very young age, you ARE doomed! He gives a piece of cake as an exaple: the child who can cut it in half and eat half later will be successful in life, he said.

I threw the book across the room!. It didn't help.

Dec. 23 2011 12:17 PM
Craig from brooklyn

Can people addicted to drugs, or sex, or food, or gambling beat their addiction with will power, unaided by medical or psychological help? i once read it is possible if the addict suffers some sort of trauma related to their addiction. but does it take disaster (a heart attack? bankruptcy? loss of family? obesity?) for the addicted to find the will power to stop?

Dec. 23 2011 12:16 PM

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