However, willpower, like a muscle, can also get fatigued in the short term. Fine recounts an experiment where subjects were put in a room with both radishes and chocolate chip cookies. One group was told to eat only the radishes and avoid the cookies, while a second group was given free reign with the sweets. Both groups were then asked to solve a puzzle. The puzzle was unsolvable, but the researchers were actually interested in how long the subjects would keep at it before giving up. Those who had to exercise self-restraing with the cookies gave up much quicker than those who didn't.
Read the whole thing here.
So what to take away from all this? Here are a few quick thoughts:
- Self discipline may have just as much (if not more) to do with academic success than intelligence,
- Self-discipline can be trained.
- Being disciplined in some areas may have a spillover effect in others
- Sometimes when you're in the midst of a difficult task that requires self-discipline (like an extended writing project), you should cut yourself some slack in other areas.