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How your perceptions about willpower can affect behavior, goal achievement

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Willpower is one of the top reasons Americans use to explain their failure to make lasting lifestyle changes. But a Stanford study shows that how we think about willpower influences our self-discipline - and that people have a greater ability to regulate their behaviors then they think.

In the study, researchers conducted lab experiments and a "real world" experiment during finals week with Stanford undergraduates. The lab experiments involved splitting volunteers into two groups, one that believed willpower is limited and a second that believed a person doesn't run out of willpower, and asking them to complete a series of tasks. The results showed participants who thought willpower was unlimited performed better.

Curious to know if the findings translated to the "real world," researchers then examined how students' perceptions of willpower coincided with their ability to stick to a set of goals during finals week. Again, results showed students who saw willpower as finite were more prone to procrastination.

In a story published yesterday in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Heather Schwartz, a medical nutrition therapist at Stanford Hospital & Clinics, comments on how the research could be useful in helping patients improve their health habits:

Schwartz said the study has given her a new way of thinking about willpower - and helping her diabetic patients. She said that although the study's results made sense, framing willpower as something that could be manipulated was surprising to her. She had not thought about it that way before.

The finding that willpower is not a limited resource is "a pretty powerful conclusion," she said.

If a patient finds sticking to their goals difficult, Schwartz said, she can now tell them that the willpower is there--and that they just have to "access it."

Definitely something to think about for those that resolved to be healthier in 2011.

Photo by jayneandd

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