A Study That Could Turn a New Page in Your Life: Is Will a Muscle?

Emre Ülkem

Emre Ülkem

Boğaziçi Uni.

“It is not only knowledge that young people need, it is also not learning this or that. To have a will and thus to be faithful to the trust, to take immediate action, to gather their energies on a success and to do the work to be done.” – Ebner von Eschenbach

How would you react if your friend came to you and told you that willpower works like a muscle? You would probably be surprised at first and then ask questions like how? In this article, I will try to clear the question marks in your mind. You can think of me as a friend. 🙂
First of all, I would like to talk about the starting point of this article. I decided to write this article while watching the video called ‘Understanding the Power of Will’ on the channel I follow on YouTube ‘Lean Code’.(English Subtitle maybe required) From here, I would like to thank Bilgem Çakır, the owner of the channel, for his content.
Willpower, discipline and patience are just a few of the important skills to have on the road to success. Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney wrote a book covering these features called Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength and examined the subject of will in detail.

Anyone can start; but only those with strong will can finish it. – Eli Stanley Jones

The authors shared an experiment conducted by Mark Muraven of Case Western University in the book. In the experiment, the participants are told that the purpose of the experiment is to measure the perception of taste, but in fact what Mark wants to do is to measure the willpower of the participants. Some of the subjects taken into the room were asked to eat cookies by completely random selection and ignore the radishes that were standing next to them at the time, while others were told to eat radishes and ignore the cookies.
While those who eat cookies feel relieved, some of those who eat radishes take the hot cookies in their hands, smell them and put them back on the plate. Five minutes later, the researchers enter the room and tell the participants to wait fifteen minutes for the food they are eating to disappear from their emotional memory. In order not to get bored during this time, you can solve an almost impossible puzzle “Actually, you can solve it very easily, we don’t think it will take you long.” they give it by saying.
The experiment actually starts from this point. Those who have exhausted their willpower by eating radish instead of cookies say how unlucky they are by not wanting to solve the puzzle, and that they are doing unnecessary work. Cookie eaters, on the other hand, try to solve the puzzle and put in more effort than radish eaters. Because by eating cookies, they can allocate their unused will to solving puzzles. Radish eaters don’t have enough willpower to solve puzzles because they use their willpower to avoid eating cookies.
This experiment is repeated about 200 times, and all of them come to the conclusion that willpower is not a skill, it is like a muscle in our arms and legs. Just like a muscle in our arm, our willpower starts to get tired as we work. Just as we never play sports and suddenly play sports for 2 hours and then hate sports because of muscle pain, our willpower is in the same situation. If we haven’t worked on it, it doesn’t develop and reduces our resistance to life, just like muscle pain at the first exertion. We feel unhappy and unlucky, and we give up trying because of the feeling that I won’t be able to make it anyway.
Again, in a different part of the same book, it is written that the will muscle can be developed as a child and emphasizes the importance of engaging in sports or art. In another study, they observed that children who were engaged in a single sport or art at a young age were more successful in academic life and later in business life. Showing patience in a single desired area makes the will become a habit and prevents the muscle from getting tired. Is it too late for us? I don’t think so, even reading a book that we don’t like to the end actually causes our will muscle to work. As the muscle works, our willpower increases even more. Being aware of the things we want and doing them consciously, even though we do not want them, increases the will power and makes it a habit without tiring our will. Actually, there is no such thing as I can’t do it, even if I don’t like it, how can I do it.
Today, the multitude of options makes it very difficult for us to make decisions. When we decide on something, our mind remains when we do not decide, and we always say “what if”. Therefore, in case of the slightest failure or dissatisfaction, we immediately give up and consider the other option. When we consider every option, we force our will to make decisions and become unhappy just like those who eat radish.
Is the solution reducing the number of options? I don’t think so in my own way. The only solution seemed to me to develop the muscle of willpower. In this, I will make a list of what I use my will and where I have difficulties in using my will. From now on, when I feel tired and unhappy, I will think that my willpower muscle is tired and I will wait for it to relax by doing nothing and not thinking for a while. Maybe I can make better decisions with this method. As Shiller said, everything is in my hands.

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