Modeling Willpower

People talk a lot about willpower. Supposedly, it’s a kind of magical energy that gives you the ability to complete your goals, break free of bad habits, and basically solve all your problems. How many times have you heard someone say, “If I just had more willpower, I could lose these 50 pounds”?

Sometimes willpower is treated as innate: you either have it or you don’t, and if you don’t have it, there’s really no use trying to lose those 50 pounds. I’ve heard many people say things like “Oh, I’d try diet and exercise, but I just don’t have the willpower.”

Other times, willpower is treated as something you can acquire. This viewpoint is especially popular among people who are giving you advice. “You just need to get more willpower,” they tell you. “Then you can lose those 50 pounds!” Great, you think to yourself. So, what is this “willpower” thing, exactly, and where do I get it?

Willpower is something I’ve thought a lot about lately. I started grad school after a grueling four years of undergrad, and found myself incredibly burnt out. Suddenly, the willpower that had propelled me through undergrad had vanished, and I just couldn’t find the energy to work anymore. In vain, I sought my lost willpower. In vain, I tried to bully myself into working again. All failed.

Part of the problem was that my thinking about willpower was confused. And to a large extent, I think that my confusion stemmed from some general misconceptions that our culture has about willpower. So in this post, I’ll first describe our culture’s standard model of willpower. In particular, we tend to think of willpower as a matter of sucking it up and doing something unpleasant, in service of some greater goal. Then, I’ll describe an alternative model, where willpower does not fight against desire, but is simply another form of desire. Finally, I’ll argue that a full definition of willpower should encompass both viewpoints. I’ll refactor willpower into two components, determination and desire, which reflect the two models respectively, and which combine to give a more complete account of what willpower actually is.

The Usual Model: Willpower vs. Desire

In our culture, I think we often associate willpower with the word “should”. For instance, you wake up in the morning and think, “I should really start that CS homework/do the dishes/clean the house today… but I really don’t want to.” Then, a battle ensues between willpower and desire.

If willpower wins, you do the CS homework, and get it out of the way. If you’re lucky (and I’ll come back to this), you’ll enter a state of flow. Once you’ve pushed past the initial resistance, the homework assignment will fly by. When you finish it, you may be exhausted, but you’ll feel good because you’ve accomplished something. If you’re unlucky, though, the initial resistance will never disappear. You won’t enjoy the homework assignment at all, and you might spend the whole time resenting it, perhaps interleaving short bursts of working with long stretches of procrastination. When you finish the assignment, you’ll feel drained and defeated, and perhaps you’ll even feel like your day has been wasted. After all, if you hadn’t had this stupid homework assignment to do, you could have gone on a bike ride/finished reading that novel/hung out with some friends.

That’s if willpower wins. If willpower loses, then you procrastinate. Maybe you go for that bike ride, or maybe you just screw around on the internet all day. Either way, you’ll be plagued the whole time by guilt. No matter how much you’re enjoying the bike ride/internet/whatever, you’ll still feel the guilt of procrastination tugging at the back of your mind, reminding you that you should really be working right now. And later, when the assignment is almost due, you’ll write it up in a mad rush; when you hand it in, you’ll feel a flood of shame at the poor quality of your work.

In either case, the premise is the same. You are made up of two subagents, willpower and desire, and they fight with each other for control of your actions. Who wins will depend on a couple of things:

  • The strength of your willpower. In this model, it is taken for granted that different people have different strengths of willpower, though as I mentioned above, sometimes this strength is treated as innate, while other times it’s claimed to be mutable.
  • The strength of your desire. As William Blake wrote, “Those who restrain desire do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.”

The battle between willpower and desire is much like Freud’s classic struggle between the superego and the id. Willpower is the superego, the sensible subagent. It knows both what’s moral and what’s good for you. Cheating on your girlfriend is immoral; eating junk food is bad for you; your willpower disapproves of both of these things. I picture the Willpower subagent as a no-nonsense elementary school teacher, waggling its finger at disobedient Desire. “You shouldn’t do that,” Willpower says. “It’s wrong/unhealthy/lazy/etc.”

Desire, on the other hand, is greedy, in the computer science sense of the word. Desire cares about what will feel good now; it doesn’t care about getting a good grade on the test, or decreasing the risk of a heart attack fifty years in the future. It just wants to sit on the couch all day, playing video games and eating candy. Desire will cause all kinds of trouble if Willpower isn’t around to keep its sharp eyes on it.

They’re also associated with different parts of the mind. Desire is low-level, intuitive, and automatic. Willpower, on the other hand, is conscious, verbal, high-level, and cerebral. When willpower wins, it’s a triumph of the rational, moral part of the mind over the base and animalistic.

To reiterate the most important contrast in this model, Desire says “I want”, but Willpower says “I should”. When people envision someone with strong willpower, they imagine someone for whom the “should” always wins. People who believe they “don’t have the willpower” think this because they see their desire constantly triumphing over the “should”, the irrational parts of their brain winning over the rational ones.

But there is another, completely different way of looking at willpower, which I’ll describe in the next section.

A New Model: Willpower Is Desire

Once, in college, a professor of mine told me “there’s no such thing as willpower”. We were driving to an event, and we’d stopped at a store on the way. As we waited in the checkout line, I found myself tempted by the candy they put right next to the register. I said out loud, “Gah, I really want that candy, but I really shouldn’t eat it. I hope I have the willpower to resist this temptation.” And my professor responded with something that surprised me greatly at the time. He said, “There’s no such thing as willpower. There’s only wanting things enough.” He explained that if I didn’t buy the candy, it wouldn’t be because I had the willpower to resist it. It would be because my desire to not buy the candy outweighed my desire to buy it. He told me that if I really wanted to stop eating candy, I should go online and read about the negative impact that candy has on my health.

This idea that there was no such thing as willpower startled me, and seemed to contradict my experience. Here, faced with this candy bar, I was confronted with two feelings: (1) “I really want that candy bar because it’s tasty”, and (2) “I shouldn’t buy the candy bar because eating candy is unhealthy”. These are, of course, the “want” and “should” of the previous section. But my professor was suggesting that I should build up associations between candy and negative things, so that the next time I saw a candy bar, I’d have the following two feelings instead: (1) “I really want that candy bar because it’s tasty”, and (2) “I really don’t want that candy bar because it would give me cavities”. There would be no “want” vs. “should”, just two different “wants” competing with each other to see which was stronger.

What exactly is the difference between a “want” and a “should”? Writing the two different versions of (2) out in words conceals the fact that these two impulses are implemented very differently in the mind. As I mentioned in the previous model, the “should” is a very high-level, cerebral thing, while the “want” is a low-level, visceral desire. So in the second scenario, (2) couldn’t just be a piece of abstract knowledge that eating candy bars results in cavities. It would have to be a visceral revulsion to the candy bar based on its negative effects.

If you wanted to implement the “do not want” of the second scenario, you would need to use methods that specifically appealed to the subconscious, intuitive parts of your mind. For instance, you might picture the sugar from the candy bar eating holes into your teeth, or think of the CEO of an evil corporation laughing gleefully at how he’d tricked you with his insidious advertisements. Pick whatever image you find most viscerally powerful. With enough reinforcement, the stimulus of the candy will get linked up to that image and the negative feelings associated with it. You’ll be reprogramming your mind so that the “should” of the first scenario won’t be necessary. You won’t be faced with a choice between the visceral desire for the candy bar and a purely intellectual understanding that you shouldn’t eat it. Instead, you’ll be caught between two visceral desires, and the stronger desire will win. No agonizing, ego-depleting blast of “willpower” will be necessary.

So according to this second model, willpower is a matter of visceral desire. All of the rational considerations in the world will get you nowhere without intuitive desire. Real willpower isn’t the voice saying “should”, it’s the intuitive motivations behind the reasoning. The thought “I should do X” doesn’t do anything but remind you of your pre-existing desire to do X. Whether you follow the “should” or not depends on the strength of your desire to do X and the strength of your desire not to do X. So in the homework example from the previous section, whether willpower “wins” or not will depend on how badly you want to do the homework vs. how badly you want to do something else. This is why it’s a lot easier for willpower to “win” if you actually enjoy the assignment. Barring that, if you care deeply enough about your grades, or you’re consumed by worry about your inability to complete the assignment on time, these things may also help you to resist procrastinating. Those of you who are prone to procrastination will have noticed that it becomes easier to work on the assignment as the due date approaches. That’s because the intuitive urgency of completing the assignment increases with proximity to the deadline.

So if you follow this second model, “increasing your willpower” is really just a matter of reconfiguring your desires. Some of this can be done using the technique I discussed above: manually associating a stimulus with an emotion (see this link too for an excellent description). Some of it can be done by altering your mind to care more about the future and the long-term effects of your actions. Once your desires are sufficiently reconfigured, there will be no need for the word “should”. In fact, there will be no need for conscious decision-making at all. Once you’ve reached this state, following your instincts will be enough, since they’ll have been honed to align with what the “should” would have said if it still existed. I think this is what Crowley was getting at when he talked about the True Will. It’s something that your whole body decides to do. There’s only the one true action, and every fiber of your being is united in completing it.

Integrating the Two Models

We’ve seen two models now: one which says that willpower is the ability to do things you don’t want to, and another which says that willpower is just another form of desire. So, which of these models is correct? The answer, of course, is “neither”.

I tend to think that a good model of willpower will integrate aspects of both of these models. Thus, in my current model, I’ve refactored willpower into two components, determination and desire. Determination is the “should” kind of willpower from the first model; desire is the “want” kind of willpower from the second. To accomplish anything, you’ll need some of both.

Unless you manage to find your True Will, desire alone will not be enough. No matter how much you enjoy doing your homework (for instance), desire will eventually falter, and you’ll need determination to get you through that moment of weakness. When I was in undergrad, I absolutely loved studying computer science, but there were times when an assignment was due in twelve hours and I had barely slept in three days. I wanted nothing more than to rest, but I knew I had to keep working in order to get the assignment in on time. It was then that I called on determination.

Determination alone is never enough either. You always need some amount of desire. When I was burnt out, I spent all my determination trying to force myself to work, and I still wasn’t able to complete my assignments. It wasn’t that my determination had decreased since undergrad; it was my desire that had vanished.

The second model insisted that determination doesn’t actual exist as a separate thing from desire. But I don’t believe this; the two things feel subjectively different to me. Here’s the best explanation I can give of that difference: determination is like a temporary power boost that strengthens one of your desires (like the desire to hand in your homework on time) so that it can overpower your other impulses (like the desire to get some sleep).

Determination is like rocket fuel; you only have so much of it. Eventually you’ll run out, and then the desire that is naturally strongest will win. Determination interacts with desire the same way that rocket fuel interacts with the space shuttle’s weight. The heavier your space shuttle (i.e. the less desire you have), the more rocket fuel (i.e. determination) it will take to get it off the ground. You can use techniques like meditation to increase your supply of determination. But no amount of determination can make up for a complete lack of desire, just like no amount of rocket fuel can lift an infinitely heavy spaceship.

This is the problem I encountered when I transitioned from undergrad to grad school and found myself burnt out. Recall the contrast I made at the beginning of this essay: that if “willpower wins over desire”, you can either be lucky or unlucky. If you’re lucky, you’ll enter a state of flow, and if you’re unlucky, you won’t. I think that whether you get “lucky” depends on the strength of your desire. If your desire is strong already, then it will just take a little bit of determination to boost it over the threshold. If your spaceship is really light, then it won’t take much rocket fuel to get it into outer space, where you no longer need to burn fuel to keep it from falling back to earth. But if your desire is really weak, then you’ll need to keep expending determination to keep yourself working, and you’ll never make it to a state of flow. This is what happens when your rocket is too heavy to make it into outer space. By burning all your rocket fuel, you can keep the thing aloft for a little while, but soon enough it will crash back down to earth.

So this concludes the model I’m currently using. Both determination and desire are necessary for accomplishing your goals. If you’re having trouble finding the willpower to do something, make sure you check which of these two components is missing. Because the first model of willpower is so prevalent, we often assume that the problem is a lack of determination. But I think that lack of desire is far more common, and can often be easier to fix.

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14 Responses to Modeling Willpower

  1. Kevin says:

    Great post. I like the model (provides good, new concepts for making better sense of my experiences), and it was presented extremely clearly.

    Also, I’ll just leave this here:

  2. Kaj Sotala says:

    I liked Kurzban’s take on the “there’s no such thing as a willpower” argument, though his angle on it was quite different from the “there’s only desire” one.

    From Kurzban, Robert (2011-01-03). Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind (p. 176-179). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition:

    What about the more general notion that “willpower” is a “resource” that gets consumed or expended when one exerts self-control? First and foremost, let’s keep in mind that the idea is inconsistent with the most basic facts about how the mind works. The mind is an information-processing device. It’s not a hydraulic machine that runs out of water pressure or something like that. Of course it is a physical object, and of course it needs energy to operate. But mechanics is the wrong way to understand, or explain, its action, because changes in complex behavior are due to changes in information processing. The “willpower as resource” view abandons these intellectual gains of the cognitive revolution, and has no place in modern psychology. That leaves the question, of course, about what is going on in these studies.

    Let’s back up for a moment and think about what the function of self-control might be. Taking the SATs, keeping your attention focused, and not eating cookies all feel more or less unpleasant, but it’s not like spraining your ankle or running a marathon, where the unpleasant sensations are easy to understand from a functional point of view. The feelings of discomfort are probably the output of modules designed to compute costs. When your ankle is sprained, putting weight on it is costly because you can damage it further. When you have been running for a long time, the chance of a major injury goes up. These sensations, then, are probably evolution’s way of getting you to keep your weight off the joint and stop doing all that running, respectively.

    There’s nothing obviously analogous for not eating cookies or doing word problems. Why does it feel like something, anything at all, to (not) do these things? As we’ve seen, lots of other stuff happens in your head, all the time, and it doesn’t feel like anything. Further, given that it seems as if exerting self-control is a good thing, that is, that it generally leads to outcomes that might be expected to yield fitness benefits, you might expect that exerting self-control would feel good and easy. Why does it seem hard, and feel even harder over time? What is the sensation of “effort” designed to get you to do?

    One reason it seems hard might derive from that fact that “exerting self-control” entails incurring immediate costs in various forms, and “effort” is the representation of these costs. Consider not eating a cookie. There are probably modules in your mind that are designed to compute the benefits of eating nice calorie packages. They’re wired up to the senses, designed to calculate just how good (in the evolutionary sense) eating the calorie package is. From the point of view of these modules, not eating the cookie is a cost, in particular, the lost calories in the cookie. So, the sensation of the effort of not eating it—”temptation”—is probably evolution’s way of getting you to eat the cookie, just as the sensation of pain is evolution’s way of getting you to stay off your sprained ankle. In both cases, the experience is the output of a module designed to compute costs.

    The same argument applies to other opportunities, and they take various forms. In some experiments, subjects are told to ignore words flashing on a computer screen, something that feels quite effortful. Why? Well, not reading words on a screen carries a loss of information: What did those words say? A similar argument applies regarding Ariely’s work on decision making during sexual arousal, which we looked at earlier in this chapter. The reason that subjects respond to those survey questions when they are aroused is probably because the mechanisms designed to take advantage of mating opportunities are computing benefits in the environment, though they are being fooled by the fact that the images they are getting are pictures rather than actual people.

    Is it also a cost to solve word problems? Sure, but the cost isn’t caloric. Solving word problems requires the use of certain fancy modules, and when one is doing one of these tasks, these modules are kept busy. This means that doing these tasks carries real (opportunity) costs: all the things that these modules could be doing but are not because they are engaged. It’s not unlike what happens when you start up some big piece of software on your computer: Other things suffer, necessarily. Starting up software carries these costs. Working on word problems, similarly, prevents you from using important modular systems from doing other tasks.

    So, instead of a resource view, my view is that the issue is more of an effort monitor—an “effortometer”62 in the mind. My guess is that the reason it feels like something to pay close attention to something, solve hard problems, or avoid eating cookies is that doing these things is costly from the perspective of certain modules.63 The feeling of “mental effort,” on this view, is like a counter, adding up all these opportunity costs to determine if it’s worth continuing to do whatever one is doing.64 As these costs get higher—either because one is doing the task for a while, or for some other reason—the effortometer counts higher, giving rise to the sensation of effort, and also giving the impatient modules more and more of an edge.

    If I’m working on word problems—but not getting anywhere—using my modules in this way isn’t doing much good, so maybe I should stop. Interestingly, as illustrated by the results of the studies described above, the effect seems to extend from one task to another, even if the tasks are quite different.

    This idea suggests that a mechanism is needed that performs these computations, weighing the costs and benefits of doing tasks that make use of certain modules. Some modules are counting up these costs, and when the effortometer increases, there is less suppression of the short-term modules—it’s time to move on. So, it’s not “willpower” that’s exhausted—it’s that the ratio of costs to reward is too high to justify continuing. As Baumeister himself indicated, “it is adaptive to give up early on unsolvable problems. Persistence is, after all, only adaptive and productive when it leads to eventual success.”

    The effortometer view suggests a way to “reset” or at least reduce the count. Suppose we give subjects a reward, such as a small gift, or even light praise; this ought to “reset” the counter, just as when a foraging animal’s time is rewarded by finding food morsels. Diane Tice and colleagues conducted some work in which some subjects were told not to think of a white bear,* and others were not. The idea was that not thinking of a white bear takes some “willpower,” and when you’ve just used your willpower, you have less of it left to use in the next task, which was drinking an unpleasant beverage. They found that if you have to suppress thinking of a white bear, you can’t drink as much of the awful Kool-Aid. So, that looks good for a “resource” model. Your willpower sponge has been squeezed out.

    Some subjects were, however, given a small gift after suppressing thinking of a white bear. These subjects were able to drink just as much of the nasty stuff as those who were at liberty to think of as many white bears as they wanted. That is, their “willpower” seems to have been restored, making them able to endure the foul-tasting beverage.

    These findings are very hard to accommodate with a “resource” model. If my self-control sponge is squeezed dry by not thinking of a white bear, a gift shouldn’t help me exert willpower—I’m all out of it. (And certainly the gift didn’t increase the amount of glucose in my body.) In contrast, this finding fits very well with the effortometer model. If the effortometer is monitoring reward, then a gift resets it, and ought to improve subsequent self-control tasks.

    Elsewhere in the book (I forget where) he also notes that the easiest explanation for people to go low on willpower when hungry is simply that a situation where your body urgently needs food is a situation where your brain considers everything that’s not directly related to acquiring food to have a very high opportunity cost. It seems like a more elegant and realistic explanation than saying the common folk-psychological explanation that seems to suggest something like willpower being a resource that you lose when you’re hungry or tired. It’s more of a question of the evolutionary tradeoffs being different when you’re hungry or tired, which leads to different cognitive costs.

    With reference to your hypothesis in particular, I would note that you seem to be missing the impact of habit. When I started going vegetarian, it used to be really difficult to me, partly because I’d built up a lifetime habit of eating meat. Now it has gotten a lot less effortful, partially because I have built up new habits which don’t require a meat-based diet. That too seems compatible with Kurzban’s hypothesis: behaviors get reinforced into habits when they are successful in delivering us rewards, so changing an established habit should be something that we are required to pay a cost for, in order to increase the probability of that change really being worth the effort.

    • Ooh interesting! Thanks very much for sharing; Kurzban’s model is fascinating. But I’m not entirely clear on what willpower is according to his model. Is it the mental prioritization itself, or the ability to manually override that prioritization?

      I really like Kurzban’s model though. This morning I was thinking that “desire” isn’t actually a very good description of the component in my model. One reason is that I have more willpower to accomplish the things I need to do than the ones I want to. This explains why I have more and more willpower to do my homework the closer it gets to the deadline; it’s not until I absolutely need to do the assignment that I feel driven to work on it. But I’ve always modelled this in terms of resources. Working really hard on my homework takes a ton of resources; my brain doesn’t want to expend those resources, but it will if it’s absolutely necessary, like if the homework is almost due. This is similar to the time I was trying to push a bookshelf up the stairs. I was far too weak to lift it, which is why I was pushing it instead. But suddenly, I felt it start to slip and fall on me; without thinking, I pushed with all my might and quickly got it the rest of the way up the stairs. It felt like my arms had been temporarily filled with superhuman strength. I figured that my body had called on some kind of “emergency strength”, which either took a ton of energy or risked hurting my arms, which is why the body would save it for emergencies only. Folk wisdom says that you never really know what feats you’re capable of until you’re put in an extreme situation; I suspect this is why. But anyway, Kurzban’s model definitely seems to account for this phenomenon, while mine didn’t seem to be able to.

      You’re definitely right that my model fails to account for habit. Your hypothesis about habit is interesting. Do habits really only get ingrained when they result in some reward?

      • Kaj Sotala says:

        I’m not entirely sure of what exactly willpower is according to that model, either. I would guess that it’s meant to be something like the mental prioritization itself, plus the influence that any higher-level/long-term modules are capable of exerting in that particular situation. Since he says that mounting costs give “the impatient modules more and more of an edge”, that implies a background of both “patient” and “impatient” modules pushing in their own direction, with the initial power balance being affected by any number of factors. Your determination and desire factors could probably be fit in here, as descriptions about the “initial” configuration of modules that influences the power that the “patient” modules have in that situation. As could the influence of habit.

        I’m pretty sure that Kurzban wouldn’t endorse an “ability to manually override the prioritization”, since that would strike him as talking about a homunculus inside the brain, and his book is pretty much dedicated to offering homunculiless explanations about how the brain works. He’d probably mutter grumpily something about “just what’s this thing that’s doing the ‘manual’ overriding? The brain is all just different modules!”. ;)

        As for habits, I’m under the impression that rewards are, if not the only thing that ingrains them, then at least the main thing. Though I haven’t actually looked at the primary literature that much, and my main sources are more things like this pop-sci article:

        The process within our brains that creates habits is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop — cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward — becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become neurologically intertwined until a sense of craving emerges. What’s unique about cues and rewards, however, is how subtle they can be. Neurological studies like the ones in Graybiel’s lab have revealed that some cues span just milliseconds. And rewards can range from the obvious (like the sugar rush that a morning doughnut habit provides) to the infinitesimal (like the barely noticeable — but measurable — sense of relief the brain experiences after successfully navigating the driveway). Most cues and rewards, in fact, happen so quickly and are so slight that we are hardly aware of them at all. But our neural systems notice and use them to build automatic behaviors.

        A quick Googling did also bring up this paper, which, if I’m reading it right, seems to support the “habit formation comes via rewards” argument.

      • Kaj Sotala says:

        Oh, and the PRISM theory of consciousness also seems relevant for building a model which takes Kurzban’s view while also providing a useful description of willpower.

  3. 2obvious says:

    Three cheers to Kaj for bringing up “habit.” –Although I’m skeptical that “reward” necessarily plays a role in it. (Think: OCD.)

    Ideas are reinforced in our brains through neural connections. The more connections, the stronger the idea. (e.g. You can picture an apple really clearly because you’ve seen them, smelled them, tasted them, read the word, heard others say the word, etc., all throughout your life.)

    Habit is the result of reinforcement. Reinforcement is not always paired with a reward.

    >The battle between willpower and desire is much like Freud’s classic struggle between the superego and the id.

    Eerily so. I dare say that the “willpower” in your model fits neatly into Freud’s pre-existing one?

    My laymen’s understanding is that most of Freud’s ideas were debunked over the course of history? Still, he lay the foundation of modern psychology. And, soft a science as psychotherapy can be, my opinion of it is pretty high. For now.

    If the goal behind modeling “willpower” is about learning to master desire: cognitive behavioral therapy may seem extreme, but studies show it to be remarkably effective.

    • Oh hmm, the “reinforcement without a reward” thing is interesting. So you’re using “reinforcement” in a “neurons that fire together wire together” sense, while I usually associate the word with the AI technique of reinforcement learning, which does necessarily contain rewards.

      Did Freud have a model of willpower? I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never actually read his works, so I just know the bits of his theories that are commonly referenced.

  4. 2obvious says:

    I was suggesting that Freud’s model of the psyche is broad enough to encompass your model of willpower.

    Id is unbridled impulse, right?

    Superego is what morally keeps you in check, right?

    …So the superego is powered by will. You’re talking about the same thing. No?

  5. nadith says:

    2obvious, that is hebbs postulate, note postulate.It is a nice idea, and it seems to be the case for muscles, but mentally we don’t know.

    that said, I do think there are rewards, much like altruism, we may just not see them. That said I do not disbelieve in altruism as I think disbelieving a word we coin is rather absurd. Then there are ideas of individuals and so much more which I don’t think are the topic here. I have met OCD individuals, having been there myself and despite their arguments I can see their rewards when they are doing it and speaking against it. Much like someone who claims to dislike the drama they rush to fervently.

    I believe Kurzban is not talking of willpower, so much as perhaps mental energy which gets burnt out. One can force ones self, but it takes force, which takes energy. Similarly I think Lucidian took a step away from her practices in willpower, but really just spun it a new way; which is epic in taking a step, but feels like it misses the mark. Lucidian still exercises the should and will power, using new tricks and traps to re-associate and train ones self. I wonder though, is this because feelings, wants and desires are seen as outside ones own spectrum of understanding?
    Do you need to train yourself, or really just evaluate your desire to understand what it is you desire. Perhaps in the candy bar there is something you would benefit from, maybe it is sleep, and the sugar is to help deal with the lack of sleep. Maybe it is the release in indulging, maybe it is a myriad of things. Understanding the desire, and understanding your desires seems a lot more powerful than trying to patch over with what one believe one should want though. Which I would hope is more to what this individual was alluding to. That it is more about what you actually want one way or another, just like it is about whether you want to force yourself and believe your sense wrong or right, and whether you want to understand and act right, or be right, or make right, or simply in accordance with.

  6. nadith says:

    oh hee hee, willpower, right. I think it is a term to refer to one of two things. Either ones ability to coerce/overcome ones compulsion, or a sort of sisu. That said, in both cases I think it is rather an ignorant observation of what is happening much like Lucidians point on creativity.

  7. Relevant comic. Also this reminds me of Haidt’s elephant and rider, with the notion that all motivations come from the elephant.

  8. JonJon says:

    Life-changing read.

  9. Bret Loucks says:

    Wow, can’t believe I missed this when it was first posted. Another model, and one that I think is particulary useful incorporates desire, the will and rational thought. These three aspects of the mind work together during the creative process (including creative problem solving). We can WANT to study for the exam. We may see the logic of spending time studying. But unless we engage our will to take some action, no studying takes place. I encourage you to check out the work of theorist, Kathy Kolbe. Her model of the creative process shows how the desire engages the will and we immediately begin to take action. Then rational thought acts as a gatekeeper to determine whether to maintain effort. This is often influenced by our natural problem solving methodology (instinctive conatas – or striving instincts). If the task is in alignment with our instincts, then we are likely to maintain our efforts. She also has created a hierarchy of human effort to explain how we tend to operate in these three parts of the mind at different levels.

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