How different would your life be, after all, if you could get yourself to sleep 8 hours at night, exercise every day, eat healthy foods in the right portions, take time for reflection and renewal, remain calm and positive under stress, focus without interruption for sustained periods of time, and prioritize the work that matters most?
Right now, the vast majority of what we do each day occurs automatically. We’re often triggered, as these authors make vividly clear, by subtle cues we’re not even aware of — a smell, a visual image, a familiar sight. These cues prompt us to move away from any potential pain and discomfort, no matter how minimal, and toward immediate reward and gratification, no matter how fleeting.
The primary role of our prefrontal cortex is to bias the brain towards doing the “harder” thing. Unfortunately, our rational capacity is often overwhelmed by the power of our own most visceral and primitive desires.
We’re often captive to our biochemistry. When the neurotransmitter dopamine is triggered, for example, what we feel is craving, not pleasure. This explains not just why we fall into a range of self-destructive addictions, but also why we don’t take better care of ourselves and make wiser choices day in and day out.
The solution is to learn how to co-opt the more primitive habit-forming regions of our brains, so that rather than reinforcing our negative impulses, they become the soil in which we build positive rituals that serve our long term interests.
Why is it that three prominent books published just during the past several months focused on the subject of willpower?
The first answer is that neuroscience has finally begun to open a window into the complex way our brains respond to temptation and what it takes to successfully exercise choice.
Second, a raft of recent studies have shown that the capacity for self-control — even more than genetic endowment or material advantage — fuels a range of positive outcomes in life, including more stable relationships, higher paying and more satisfying work, more resilience in the face of setbacks, better health, and greater happiness.
Finally, these books — Willpower, The Willpower Instinct, andThe Power of Habit — are a response to an increasingly evident need. Demand in our lives is truly outpacing our capacity.
The sheer number of choices we must make each day — what foods to eat, what products to buy, what information merits our attention, what tasks to prioritize — can be overwhelming. As Roy Baumeister puts it in Willpower, “Self-regulation failure is the major social pathology of our time.” Leer más “Why You Need to Make Your Life More Automatic”