Resolution Check in

Another post about willpower and resolutions, this one from Jonah Lehrer’s fantastic Frontal Cortex blog.

The reason our resolutions end in such dismal fashion returns us to the single most important fact about human willpower — it’s incredibly feeble. Consider this experiment, led by Baba Shiv, a behavioral economist at Stanford University. He recruited several dozen undergraduates and divided them into two groups. One group was given a two-digit number to remember, while the second group was given a seven-digit number. Then, they were told to walk down the hall, where they were presented with two different snack options: a slice of chocolate cake or a bowl of fruit salad.

Here’s where the results get weird. The students with seven digits to remember were nearly twice as likely to choose the cake as students given two digits. The reason, according to Shiv, is that all those extra numbers took up valuable space in the brain — they were a “cognitive load” — making it that much harder to resist a decadent dessert. In other words, willpower is so weak, and the conscious mind is so overtaxed, that all it takes is five extra bits of information before it becomes impossible for the brain to resist a piece of cake.

Jonah continues with more fascinating studies, and concludes with some potential strategies for boosting your own willpower.

From The Willpower Trick {wired}.