Cookies and Radishes
In my constant and futile attempt to become more productive, I have been reading Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. Duhigg breaks down how habits are created, changed, and broken.
Duhigg describes an experiment performed by Case Western’s Mark Muraven, where the willpower of sixty-seven undergraduate students was put to the test. One by one, students were put into a small room (being monitored through a two-way mirror, of course) and sat in front of a table with two bowls. One bowl had cookies in it; the other had radishes. Each student was assigned to either eat cookies or radishes. Cookie eaters were not allowed to eat radishes, and radish eaters were not allowed to eat cookies. It took self-control for the assigned radish eaters to resist munching on a cookie.
After the eating portion of the experiment was finished, students were given a tedious puzzle to work on. The reason the puzzle was tedious was because it was impossible to solve. The cookie eaters significantly outperformed the radish eaters. Why? Because the radish eaters had already spent their willpower resisting the cookies, while the group assigned to eat cookies had plenty of willpower left over to work on the puzzle.
The takeaway is that willpower and self-discipline are like a muscle: it can be exhausted and it can be strengthened with use. Watch out for temptations at the end of a long day. You may be too tired to resist them! Likewise, exercise your willpower and self-discipline to strengthen them.
If you were assigned to eat radishes in the experiment, would you sneak a cookie? You can be honest....
Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit. Random House, 2012.